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Creating spaces for older Ithaca lesbians

To address a lack of public community spaces for lesbians in Ithaca, local women created to Ithaca Coffee House Facebook to help facilitate group meetings. (Elizabeth Kharabadze/Ithaca Week)

In the ’80s and ’90s, community building among Ithaca’s LGBTQ+ population revolved around physical space. Now in 2023 for Ithaca’s lesbians, connection is as simple as joining a Facebook group.

Meeting with a purpose

The Ithaca Coffee House Facebook group was started Aug. 6 by a small group of older local women with the goal of helping foster a deeper sense of community among Ithaca’s lesbian population. Since its inception, the group’s membership has grown to approximately 228 women.

The group is specifically geared toward older lesbians — anyone in post-graduate and older — and women-identifying allies anywhere in the drivable region. Members of the group can post social get-togethers that range from potlucks and topic discussions to game nights and theater outings taking place throughout the year. 

“People who have lived here for a long time have their friends and, you know,  maybe don’t have a need to have a public space,” Rebecca Wolff, one of the group’s founders, said. “But based on the growth of this — the rapid, rapid growth of this Facebook group — I would say that there is a need for something.”

Nancy Law, one of Coffee House’s founders, said the purpose of the group was not solely for admins to host events, but rather to serve as a bulletin board for its members to post their own get-togethers and get support from the rest of the community.

“The Facebook group was intended to be the communication vehicle,” Law said. “Like … the four of us who … are the administrators of the page, we don’t intend to be the hosts of events and activities, but we’ll certainly help anyone who asks us about wanting to host something.”

Disappearance of public spaces

For Ithaca’s lesbian community, there is a lack of physical public spaces specifically for women-identifying individuals that are not geared toward college students.

Two former locations, Common Ground, located at 132-134 W. State St., and Felicia’s Atomic Lounge and Cupcakery, located at 508 W. State St., have not been open for many years. 

The original Common Ground location was completely destroyed June 30, 1988, because of a day-long fire. Common Ground reopened shortly after at 1230 Danby Rd. before closing permanently in 2009. Felicia’s Atomic Lounge and Cupcakery held out for several more years but eventually closed its doors on August 28, 2015.

Franco’s Pizzaria, located at 508 W. State St., occupies the space where Felicia’s Atomic Lounge and Cupcakery used to be before closing in 2015. (Elizabeth Kharabadze/Ithaca Week)

Ithaca is not the only community where LGBTQ+ people have had limited physical community spaces. According to The Lesbian Bar Project, a project dedicated to telling the stories of the United States’ lesbian bars, there are only 29 remaining lesbian bars across the U.S. — a steady decline from their heyday in the 1980s with over 200 bars. 

According to research done for Oberlin College, all LGBTQ+ bars saw a 36.6% decline between 2007 and 2019. Lesbian bars were among those hit the hardest, with 51.6% closing within that period.

“Women are social beings and we crave community and it’s hard not to have it,” Becky, one of the group’s founders, said. “And when an opportunity presents itself like this Facebook page, obviously people jumped on it in a hurry.”

A new era for meetings

Juliana Torres, a Ph.D. candidate from the Romance Studies Department at Cornell University, joined the Facebook group to connect with other lesbians in Ithaca. (Elizabeth Kharabadze/Ithaca Week)

“At the beginning, because it was new to me, I thought that maybe it was just for certain ages,” Torres said. “But it was just very open.”

For older local lesbians who feel isolated from each other, the Facebook group, although digital, gives space for community building outside of clubs and bars.

“The bottom line is we all need a place to meet, we all need a place to be able to connect, we all need to be able to know that we’re out there,” Becky said.

Author’s Note: For safety and privacy reasons, Becky chose not to share her last name.

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