Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour

Ithaca's LGBTQ history

Ithaca LGBTQ History Walking Tour

Ithaca, New York 14850, United States

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

Tour Information

Today, we stand on the shoulders of LGBTQ people who paved our way. Some of those people and events happened right here in Ithaca!

Bars and public spaces have been sites of queer and transgender resistance and resilience for decades. But many of the people and places that make up our history’s shared past have been forgotten, erased, overlooked, or ignored. This LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning) local history tour is designed to preserve some of the rich stories and heritage of our Ithaca community. Our cisgender heterosexual allies working in solidarity have also played prominent roles. This tour is for anyone wanting to learn about our local LGBTQ history and culture.

Our hope is that through tools like this, we honor and remember those who paved the way. When you are challenged, you can remember everyone who came before us. You are their dreams. You dream things they were incapable of dreaming. Keep going! LGBTQ folks are resilient, resourceful, loving and strong. Knowing our history is a powerful tool as we move forward in solidarity.

This tour was originally developed by Rachel Steinmetz '19 (intern), Cal Goodin '19 (student employee), Rachel Kreidberg '18 (audio engineer), Gianna Caputo '19 and Luca Maurer (director) of the Ithaca College Center for LGBT Education, Outreach & Services during the 2018-2019 academic year.

We are grateful to all who generously shared their recollections and stories with us, and appreciative of the campus and community librarians and archives that supported us in this exciting journey of re-discovering our histories.

We are IC LGBTQ. We honor the past. We work to better the present. We look to the future.

Please use discretion when approaching private property. Thank you, and we hope you enjoy the tour!

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

After fire destroyed the original location in 1988, the Common Ground bar moved here near Comfort Road. The new location offered dance music, special events, and outdoor summer barbecues. It closed in 2009, and reopened under new management... Read more
Many people fondly remember Upper Buttermilk State Park as the site of regular picnics for LGBTQ community members. Some gay bear groups also held events here. In gay culture, a bear is often a larger, hairy man who projects an image o... Read more
Ithaca College Commencement is always festive and,! Many of our LGBTQ and allied graduating seniors sport rainbow honor cords, recognizing their accomplishments, their history and their culture. Our LGBTQ students receiving Maste... Read more
If you stand next to the Textor Ball and look north toward Cayuga Lake, you’ll see the main campus flag pole. In February 2001, the Pan African flag was raised on this flagpole in observance of Black History Month. Later that spring, the ... Read more
Screenwriter, television producer and playwright Rod Serling taught at Ithaca College from 1967-1975. Many alumni were influenced by his teaching. The college houses the Rod Serling Archives in the campus library, and displays some of his E... Read more
One of the first recorded meetings on bisexuality in history took place at a gathering of Quakers (Friends) right here in Ithaca during the summer of 1972.  The 1972 General Conference for Friends, held June 24 through July 1, 1972, brou... Read more
Each year for more than eight years, IC's Action for AIDS (formerly the IC AIDS Working Group) gathered on campus to plant bulbs to honor the memory of a beloved member of the local community, Cleve Thomas. Thomas was a local HIV/AIDS act... Read more
The LGBTQ history of IC begins long before the campus LGBT Center was created. Records show that there was a gay student group as early as December 1971. The group is described in a September 1972 Ithacan article. The article discusses t... Read more
Some of Rod Serling's Emmy awards are on the main floor of the Park School of Communications near the Park Auditorium.
Playwright, actor and director Cleve Thomas worked with the New York Shakespeare Festival, Negro Ensemble Company, the Public Theatre and La Mama Experimental Theatre Company in New York City. He founded youth groups in Ithaca, Albany,... Read more
Founded in 1984, AIDS Work was the first local organization to serve the needs of people who are HIV positive.  AIDS Work provided education and safer sex supplies and was committed to all components of their tagline "HIV Advocacy, Inform... Read more
Pianist, composer and performer Julius Eastman grew up here with his mother Frances and brother Gerry. Eastman was one of the first to utilize minimalism in popular music. He also frequently gave his work provocative titles, including Gay... Read more
Composer and music theorist Harry Partch spent the spring and summer of 1943 living at 329 West Seneca Street. Here he worked on his composition U.S. Highball. U.S. Highball was selected by the Library of Congress's National Recording ... Read more
AIDS Work merged with Southern Tier AIDS Program during the 1990s. STAP has had several Ithaca locations, and recently relocated to 314 West State Street. It offers HIV testing, services, resources, education, and a needle exchange program.... Read more
Smedley’s Bookstore was named after journalist and feminist Agnes Smedley, one of the most prolific women spies of the twentieth century. Smedley acted as a triple agent for the Indian nationalists, the Chinese Communists and for Russia. ... Read more
A former Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP) office was also the meeting place of the first peer-led transgender support group in Ithaca, in 1995. Later, meetings alternated between this office and Hal's Deli formerly at 115 North Aurora Stre... Read more
Common Ground was founded in 1978 by Doug Miller and Kris Marshall. By chance, they came upon the original State Street location while on their way to the laundromat. Their vision was to create a haven where everyone was welcome.  “T... Read more
Ithaca is nationally known as a welcoming community for LGBTQ people. But this was not always the case. The current community is the result of decades of activism by LGBTQ residents, dating back to a time when being “out” in our comm... Read more
Firebrand Books was founded in 1984 by Nancy Bereano as an independent book publisher of feminist and lesbian fiction and nonfiction. As editor and publisher, Bereano centered work by authors whose work had been marginalized. While in her l... Read more
Site of the Ithaca Is Love photo, in support of Orlando Florida residents and those affected by the Pulse Nightclub shooting during the summer of 2016. Ithaca Is Love was led by City of Ithaca alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff and members of the l... Read more
The Gay People’s Center was in an upstairs office above a candy store, near what is now Viva Taqueria. The Center had a crisis phone line, meeting spaces available, and held occasional socials. Several elders recall the Gay People’s Cen... Read more
On July 7, 1976, the owner of Nite Court Restaurant abruptly turned off the music and turned up the lights. Then he told patrons he had a policy forbidding same sex couples from dancing together or touching each other in the establishment. ... Read more
The Ithaca LGBTQ Task Force held monthly coffeehouses in the Unitarian Church for many years. The gatherings served some of the social and educational needs of the community. For 32 years, the Ithaca LGBT Task Force encouraged awareness of ... Read more
Tompkins County was one of the first counties in New York State where the Family and Surrogate’s Court judges granted second-parent adoptions to the partners of legal parents in same-sex relationships. A second-parent or co-parent adoptio... Read more
The Tompkins County Legislature passed  Local Law C in 1991, that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Additional info on this historic development can be found at the Ithaca High School, Kulp Auditorium site on this tour. In... Read more
Musician Kurt Cobain of the grunge alternative rock band Nirvana died by suicide in 1994. Cobain's well known songs include Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lithium, which resonated with millions of listeners. In one of Nirvana’s most bel... Read more
Morrie’s Bar may have been the site of the first gay student sit-in demonstration in the country. (Beemyn, 2003). Cornell’s Student Homophile League, the second gay rights group to organize at a US university, was established in 1968. A... Read more
The Human Sexuality Collection in Cornell University's Kroch Library seeks to preserve and make accessible primary sources that document historical shifts in the social construction of sexuality, with a focus on U.S. lesbian and gay history... Read more
Robert Moog, who studied at Cornell, was an engineer and pioneer of electronic music. He invented the first commercial synthesizer, the Moog synthesizer, that continues to be a major influence in popular music. His personal archive of n... Read more
Though neither referred to themselves with any contemporary sexual identity words we use today, Martha Van Rensselaer and Flora Rose were partners in academic scholarship as well as in life. Their relationship was so well-known that they w... Read more
The Ithaca Women's Softball League has provided a recreational environment for women from 15 to 60+ years old since 1975. Games take place at Cass Park, and league meetings were held here at the Fall Creek House from the early 1990s. Women'... Read more
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 w... Read more


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