View of Louisville over the Ohio River
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Queer Mapping Spotlight: Kentucky Queer History Map

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Occasionally, I’ll be profiling queer mapping projects that connect to nature and the outdoors and are created by us for us. 

The Kentucky queer history map caught my eye because it proved what rural queer folks know: LGBTQ lives may be thought of as urban first or urban only, but we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re everywhere—including in red states like Kentucky. Kentucky may have given us homophobes like Kim Davis and Mitch McConnell, but in my two visits to the state, I’ve found welcoming and inclusive communities. 

I first discovered the Kentucky queer history map when writing a 50-states LGBTQ travel guide. Needing something for Kentucky, I used the map to discover a Louisville park that hosted three LGBTQ+ sports leagues. 

Clicking around the map reminded me of the ways queer history is shared, what mapping projects like these say about LGBTQ history and how the queer community can use maps to connect now.

Why Queer Mapping Matters 

As the Kentucky Queer History website puts it, “Since most evidence of LGBT history was intentionally hidden from the public, or destroyed in an act of damning “shamefulness” from history, so much of our knowledge and research comes from you. Oral histories are one of the most useful forms of evidence we can have as researchers, and, in many cases, may be the only one.”

While the US may have equality laws, for a long time it was dangerous to be perceived LGBTQ. So we had to use codes and signals to connect with other queer folks. Post-Stonewall this started to change in major cities, but the AIDS epidemic shifted our focus. 

Many LGBTQ folks have conflicted relationships with our history. We might not know it because AIDS robbed later generations of the chance to know their queer elders. 

Remembering homophobia and transphobia isn’t fun. It’s a painful reminder of the way queer folks were stigmatized for being themselves. In recent years, there’s been a rise in transphobic legislation, often focused on youth sports. These anti-trans laws tell all queer people that the laws and privileges we do enjoy could be taken away from us. They remind us that our identity and safety are reliant on the political climate.  

But mapping projects like this one help queer people explore their past, honor their queer ancestors, and connect with LGBTQ communities in new ways. Maps show us where we’ve come from and where we are going. They let us know where we are welcome and mark the point of past pain or trauma so we do not forget. They’re discovery tools, used by queer road trippers like me and by locals who want to demonstrate their longstanding presence in places that aren’t often thought of as LGBTQ friendly. 

Kentucky map with queer history pins

Kentucky’s Queer History Map 

The “Statewide Pride” queer history map marks the location of “significant” LGBTQ history events: long-defunct gay bars, women’s land, cruising spots, and queer-owned business. Yellow dots indicate homophobia, repression, and assault, including crimes. 

The queer history mapping project originally started as a summer research project for a University of Louisville history student, Emma Johansen, and their mentor, Dr. Lara Kelland. 

There are plans to incorporate the map data into a queer walking tour of Louisville and to draw on LGBTQ oral history collections to continue to add new pins to the map.  In time, there may be photographs, interview transcripts and other artifacts of LGBTQ life.

A few of my favorite map pins include: 

  • Otter Creek Park, Louisville, reportedly the site of the first gay pride in KY in 1982
  • Cruising spots in Covington, KY known for police entrapment in the 1980s
  • Bingham Harmony Landing Farm, a queer party spot in Goshen, KY from the 1940s to 1960s

Queer communities may not be top of mind when you think about Kentucky. That’s probably horse racing or bourbon. But Kentucky has a vibrant LGBTQ community and a rich queer past.

On the state level, politics aren’t as progressive as what you see in blue states, but fairness ordinances protect LGBTQ people from employment, housing, and civil rights discrimination in 22 communities. Activists working on the ground to make Kentucky and the broader region more welcoming and inclusive. 

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