Mapping Where LGBT History Unfolded in New York

Image Manuscripts and Archives Division/The New York Public Library

The house on Staten Island where the pioneering photographer Alice Austen lived until 1945 still stands. In 1993, the National Parks Services designated the latticed, whitewashed property a National Historic Landmark, officially titled the Alice Austen House.

Austen was a lesbian, and she photographed women embracing or lighting up cigarettes in defiance of Victorian culture. Though sometimes canonically overlooked, her work is iconic among the LGBT community. But the documentation honoring her residence overlooked the fact that for 30 years, Austen shared her home with another woman: her partner, Gertrude Tate.

Long unknown or deliberately elided, clues to a particular site’s LGBT significance in public records are often scarce. But a trio of New York-based preservationists are compiling a map of the city that reinterprets the built environment through the lens of the LGBT community, and traces its history back to long before the movement itself was even speakable.

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