Kulp Auditorium, Ithaca High School, site of Local Law C passage, and sanctuary for youth

Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour

Kulp Auditorium, Ithaca High School, site of Local Law C passage, and sanctuary for youth

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

Created By: Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services, Ithaca College


Many young people during the 1990's remember Ithaca High School's Kulp Auditorium as a place of community and refuge. As Mikel Moss put it, it was a "YOUNG GAY KID SANCTUARY! Seriously. Just about every gay kid I grew up with was in some way affiliated with activities that went on with Kulp auditorium. Even if they weren't into theatre, we would all sit in the auditorium during band and orchestra rehearsals. We all felt safe... maybe it was the dim lighting or the fact that the old lighting booth had a secret chill spot under the platform... either way it was a safe haven."

In December 1991 also on this site in the school cafeteria, Tompkins County passed Local Law C. Local Law C was the legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Sheriff’s deputies walked up and down the aisle between the ‘pro’ and the ‘con’ sections" of the room while the discussion took place. Even family members found themselves on opposite sides. It passed that evening, nine votes to six.

It had earlier been defeated in July 1991, and the effort to have it passed in December brought out sharp divisions in the local population as well as in the legislature.

Local attorney Mariette Geldenhuys shared, "When Local Law C was first put to a vote on July 9, 1991, it was defeated by 8 to 7 votes. This was a profound disappointment for the supporters of the law, both on the County Legislature and in the community. Supporters of the law rallied and started actively campaigning for its passage. Attorneys (including Karen Silverstein; Marty Luster, who was then our New York State Assemblyman; and me) worked on the language of the law. LGBT members of the community met with individual legislators to explain the importance of this measure.

Our hope was that we would be able to convince one legislator, Charles (Charlie) Evans, to change his vote, so that the law would pass by 8 votes to 7. On the night of December 2, 1991, when Local Law C was put to a vote for the second time, so many people wanted to attend and speak that the meeting was moved from the legislature’s chambers to the Ithaca High School gymnasium. Seating was divided into two sections of the vast room: one side for supporters of Local Law C and the other for opponents. The atmosphere was extremely tense, and Sheriff’s Deputies patrolled the passageway between the “pro” and “con” groups. Many people spoke passionately on each side of the issue."

Geldenhuys continues. "It was very difficult to sit in a public meeting and hear so many of our colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances condemn us and urge the legislature not to protect us from discrimination. One of the most poignant moments came when a brother and sister spoke on opposite sides of the issue."

"Finally, the legislature voted – and this time, the measure passed by 9 votes to 6. The LGBT crowd and our supporters were on our feet, cheering and hugging each other. As we had hoped, Charlie Evans had changed his vote. What we had not expected was the “yes” vote of James Mason, the chairperson of the legislature at the time. Many of the supporters met at the Common Ground on Danby Road afterwards to celebrate this enormously significant milestone."

This point of interest is part of the tour: Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour


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