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LGBT History Tour Gains National Recognition


Ithaca, NY– A walk through Downtown Ithaca provides views of beautiful stone churches, colorfully painted homes lining the streets, and on The Commons, shop window after window, each one different from the next. The history of these buildings might not be common knowledge.
With the help of the Ithaca LGBTQ History Tour, available through a mobile app or printed version, the downtown buildings are transformed from modern homes and old stone churches to monumental sites for LGBT individuals and their broader community throughout Ithaca.
On Feb. 11, 2022 Ithaca College announced that Ithaca’s LGBTQ History Walking Tour was awarded the Allan Bérubé Prize from the American Historical Association. The tour was created by a host of organizations and individuals, including the Ithaca College LGBT Center, the Tompkins County History Center, Cornell’s Sexuality Archives, and Tompkins County Community College.
The history tour serves more than just the Ithaca Community as a preservation effort of local history. It also functions as preservation of broader LGBT history and offers education on the subject as well. Through the landmarks highlighted, the history tour displays Ithaca’s contributions to LGBT history.
“Our local LGBTQ History Tour is incredibly important for a couple of reasons,” Luca Maurer, the director of Ithaca College’s LGBT Center, said. “One of those is that it’s the first initiative of its type in our area that collected and documented many of the important LGBTQ histories that happened on our campus and in our community.”
Maurer heavily credits Ithaca College students, now alumni, with the tour’s creation. More recent students have curated a playlist that pairs with the walking tour.
“Our outreach also grew to expand to organizations that serve elders in our community because the project started by interviewing LGBTQ elders,” Maurer said.
The site of the first court house is important to earlier moments in Ithaca's LGBT history such as the early 2000's move for same-sex marriage and adoptions for same-sex couples.
The Tompkins County Court House was vital in the first hearing of the “Ithaca 50.” A group of 25 same-sex couples that wanted legal marriage recognition. Photo courtesy: Mikayla-Mack Rovenolt/ Ithaca Week
The tour is comprised of 32 stops from Ithaca College’s campus down to Ithaca High School. When done in completion, the tour is eight miles and takes around four hours to walk.

The Tompkins History Center’s vast archive collection has been vital to the comprehensive view of local LGBT history provided by the tour. Zoë Van Nostrand, the Tompkins County History Center marketing director and community coordinator, said that there are over 700 boxes and 4,000 books, in addition to multiple genealogical records and maps of Ithaca, the county, and surrounding areas.
Found through the archives and oral histories, some of the more prominent stops on the tour include the Southern Tier AIDS Program building, which merged with AIDS Work in the 1990s and 110 North Geneva Street, the location of the first peer-led transgender support group.
Others include Smedleys’ Book Shop, a Marxist feminist bookstore that was later reclaimed as just a feminist shop, Ithaca City Hall and Mayor’s Office, and the Tompkins County Court House where the Family and Surrogate’s Court granted second-parent adoptions to partners of legal parents in same-sex relationships. Additionally, multiple same-sex marriage equality cases that were heard well before 2015 when same-sex marriage was deemed legal in the United States.
In addition to the LGBTQ History Tour, the Tompkins County History Center also recently created a webpage for LGBT history archives that include shop records, court records, an oral history collection, and lesson plans for educators. This includes the LGBTQ oral histories from Ithaca elders.
“One of the really exciting things for me is that I grew up in this town but since working at the museum I’ve been able to learn a lot about my community and my hometown that I hadn’t been aware of previously,” Van Nostrand said.
Van Nostrand also said that she was glad that the tour has been able to represent different parts of the Ithaca community and to help those individuals feel more seen and respected.
While the Allan Bérubé prize is another addition to the tour’s growing list of awards, Maurer emphasized the importance of the tour as a whole and not just its awards. He said that this tour has been a great way to get people outside, involved, and represented.
This image displays the Southern Tier AIDS Program's Ithaca location. It is an important part of the history tour as it has been serving the Ithaca coumminty, and those surrounding it, for many years.
The Southern Tier Aids Program has been an important part of the Ithaca Community within and outside its LGBT population. Photo: Mikayla-Mack Rovenolt/ Ithaca Week
“Not only did we do this,” Maurer said, “but the way we did it could serve as a model for other people in other communities to also document their own local LGBTQ history.”
Maurer was happy to announce that other communities have reached out to the LGBT Center for guidance in the creation of their own tours, making Ithaca’s an example for others.
A printable map is provided online, or individuals can use the PocketSights app for a self-guided tour at any time. The History Center also offers volunteer lead tours at various times.
The website with general tour information and each stop can be found here. The History Center is located on The Ithaca Commons and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.
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