Preserving gay Rochester 

The Landmark Society of Western New York is identifying sites that are important to the history of Rochester's LGBTQ community for recognition and possibly preservation.

The organization has developed a list of more than two dozen potential sites. And it will hold a public meeting from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, August 16, at its headquarters at 133 South Fitzhugh Street to get further input on the project.

Some of the sites recognize establishments from the early 1970's that no longer exist, such as Jim's Bar and Dick's 43. Jim's was a gay bar on North Street not far from the Liberty Pole, and Dick's 43, another gay bar, was on Front Street.

Jim's was raided by police multiple times, and both establishments were among the city's first well-known gay bars: businesses that were often difficult to open safely at that time.

"Many young [LGBTQ] people today don't think exclusively of gay bars as places to meet other people, but not that long ago, there were very few places where people could meet and socialize, and we don't want to lose that history," says Larry Francer, the Landmark Society's associate director of preservation.

One of the things that many of the sites had in common was an element of secrecy, he says. Being seen coming out of a gay bar in those days could risk everything from assaults to job loss. It could also involuntarily "out" the person to family, neighbors, and employers.

Other potential sites include the University of Rochester's Todd Union, which held the first meeting of the Gay Liberation Front in October, 1970; Genesee Valley Park, which was the site of the first gay community picnic in July, 1973; and St. Mary's Hospital, which opened the city's first ward devoted to people diagnosed with AIDS.

The Landmark Society's efforts follow President Barack Obama's designation of the Stonewall National Monument as a national historic landmark. The Stonewall Inn in New York City was the site of an uprising in the summer of 1969 after police raided and arrested mostly male patrons of gay bars.

Though the Stonewall National Monument, recognized as the origin of the gay rights movement, is the first to receive national recognition, other cities with large LGBTQ communities have given local designation to sites with historical significance, Francer says.

Even though Rochester is a smaller city than San Francisco, for example, it is well known for its large and politically active LGBTQ community, he says.

The first phase of the LGBTQ landmark project was largely funded through the Rochester Area Community Foundation's LGBT Giving Circle. The Landmark Society hopes that the next phase will be funded through a grant from the National Park Service.

The grants often result in new listings to the National Register of Historic Places, which can lead to federal and state historic rehabilitation grants and tax credits to improve and preserve buildings and places of importance, Francer says.

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