Explore 8 Southern Sites That Tell the History of LGBTQ America

While awareness campaigns tend to hone in on LGBTQ stories on the West and East coasts, people living in the American South have played an instrumental role in advancing LGBTQ rights. Southerners have made history by fighting against the discriminatory policies and stereotypes that harm LGBTQ people across the nation.

As you make your way through this guide, you will notice—with some exceptions—that many of these sites are private homes and residences. Often, the stories of LGBTQ life and resistance took place in smaller spaces across the country. Travel through the South and see 8 places where these remarkable individuals have lived and worked in the journey for equality.

  1. Image of two booklets in plastic sleeves with the words "Guidelines for Transexuals", and "Religious aspects of Transexualism" from the Ericson Educational Foundation.

    Photo By: Ted Eytan via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

    Reed Erickson Residence

    Reed Erickson grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, attending college at Louisiana State University. He worked as an engineer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but returned to Baton Rouge in the 1950s to work with his family's business. A transgender advocate, Erickson made history in Louisiana when he legally transitioned and changed his name in 1965. In 1964 Erickson founded the Erickson Educational Foundation (EEF), a philanthropic organization. The EEF provided vital funding and support for some of America’s earliest LGBTQ organizations including ONE, Inc. and a clinic at Johns Hopkins University along with various pamphlets and educational material. While the home is not pictured, this is where Erickson lived while incorporating EEF.

  2. Vie of a domed government building. Perspective is from a lower angle looking up.

    Photo By: DXR, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Alabama State Capitol

    Patricia Todd’s election was influential in Alabama’s history. In 2006, Todd was elected as a Representative for District 54. She broke barriers to become the first openly LGBTQ elected legislator in her state and won her races in 2010 and in 2014, paving the way for more LGBTQ representation on the Alabama House floor. While the Alabama State Capitol marks Todd’s groundbreaking achievement in LGBTQ history, Todd has connected with the LGBTQ community in a variety of other roles throughout her career. She served as the first Democratic LGBTQ Vice Chair in Alabama and also worked as the state director for the Human Rights Campaign.

  3. View of a modest house that is a book store with a sign on the left hand side.

    Photo By: Google Maps Street View

    Charis Books and More

    Charis Books and More is the South’s oldest feminist and queer-friendly bookstore. In the 1970s, when Charis was founded, gay bars were community hubs across the U.S., but some LGBTQ people felt unsafe visiting these bars because of police raids. Bookstores like Charis provided a haven for the LGBTQ community. At Charis, visitors could find information about LGBTQ issues and a place to socialize. Almost fifty years after Charis first opened, the bookstore continues to support the LGBTQ community in Decatur.

  4. The exterior courtyard of a mall in Georgia with two colonnades on either side leading to a building at the end.

    Photo By: treybunn2, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Ansley Mall Mini-Cinema

    On August 5, 1969, the Ansley Mall Mini-Cinema screened Andy Warhol’s "Lonesome Cowboys." Warhol’s movie was a satirical take on Western-style films with cross-dressing sheriffs and gay characters. The film was widely decried as being obscene because of its groundbreaking LGBTQ representation. The Ansley Mall Mini-Cinema often screened indie, LGBTQ-friendly movies, but police orchestrated a raid during their "Lonesome Cowboys" showing. During the movie, police blocked off the exits to the theater and arrested many of the 70 attendees. Some historians call this targeted attack “the Stonewall of the South.”

  5. Exterior view of a home with a yard in front.

    Photo By: Google Maps Street View

    "Sinister Wisdom" Origin Site

    For much of American history, LGBTQ magazines and journals were censored. In the 1957 Supreme Court case One, Inc. v. Olesen, the judges determined that LGBTQ content was obscene and did not warrant First Amendment protection. So when Sinister Wisdom was founded in Charlotte in 1976, it was a vital platform for Appalachian lesbians to express themselves, read lesbian-friendly content, and participate in a shared reading community of other LGBTQ women. As the journal grew in popularity, it attracted a wide audience. Now, Sinister Wisdom continues to publish their literary journal and is the oldest remaining lesbian journal in the United States. This site is also significant because Sinister Wisdom is one of the few nationally popular LGBTQ journals based in Appalachia.

  6. Image of the Good Samaritan Hospital, exterior in 1929.

    Photo By: Courtesy of the Lexington Public Library

    Good Samaritan Hospital

    Born in 1892, Sweet Evening Breeze was an icon in Lexington, Kentucky. Often called Miss Sweets, Sweet Evening Breeze was a founding figure in Kentucky’s drag scene during the 1940s and 1950s and advocated to overturn Lexington’s ban on cross-dressing. Outside of performing in Lexington bars or attending church, Sweet Evening Breeze worked at Good Samaritan Hospital, pictured here, where many community members remember interacting with Sweets during their stay. A Louisville LGBTQ youth center called The Sweet Evening Breeze, Inc. honors Miss Sweets' legacy.

  7. A view of a building from a road, slightly obscured by vegetation.

    Photo By: Google Maps Street View

    Camp Sister Spirit

    In rural Mississippi, many lesbians struggle to find community. Camp Sister Spirit was a revolutionary meeting place for lesbians in the state. Partners Brenda and Wanda Henson created the camp in 1993, but the lesbian retreat attracted both opposition and support nationwide. The Camp was open for around a decade before it shuttered. Many lesbians continue to remember Camp Sister Spirit as a much-needed respite for LGBTQ women in Mississippi.

  8. Aerial view of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida.

    Photo By: Jayzze, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Jackson Memorial Hospital

    Jackson Memorial is one of the country’s largest public hospitals. During the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the medical staff at Jackson Memorial served hundreds of LGBTQ people in the Miami area. To help save lives, the Jackson Memorial Hospital opened the South Florida AIDS Network in 1986. This network is significant in LGBTQ history because it was the United States’ first county-supported organization that helped HIV/AIDS patients.

Laken Brooks is a current graduate student at the University of Florida. When Laken is not teaching or researching, she enjoys traveling, visiting free little libraries, and going to archives.

We believe all Americans deserve to see their history in the places that surround us. As a nation, we have work to do to fill in the gaps of our cultural heritage.

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