Uncovering Queer Histories aims to activate sites by developing a series of tools that can be used to commemorate, highlight, and share the importance of forgotten events and places. The starting point of this effort is the research into these sites and the stories of the people that were there. With this knowledge, it is possible to juxtapose the past with the present, and document this [figure a]. Since the aim is to shed light on the troubling pattern of erased minority LGBTQ history in these sites, another tool that was developed over the course of this project is the creation of counter-proposals; these protest design images [figure b] are provocative in nature and encourage the viewer to ask questions about the reasons behind their existence and motive, as well as helping to immortalize the site in the memory of those who saw them. Another method is to physically intervene on-site, through designing and acting out specific performance pieces. These methods are interconnected, feed off each other and can evolve and have various authors.
Because of their temporary and rebellious nature, queer spaces are more easily destroyed and paved over. Almost all of the sites that were used by minority LGBTQ were removed and replaced by spaces that have buried history and presented a clean face more acceptable to the new inhabitants of the village, losing their significance. Countless sites were erased. Some of those sites are in Uncovering Queer Histories, including an AIDS hospital turned pristine park used as leverage in a real estate deal, a 12-story women’s detention centre in the heart of the village, and a lesbian after-theatre club turned neighbourhood restaurant after the owner’s deportation for obscenity. This project started in the West Village, but the tools and methods developed are meant to apply to the rest of the city, and to any other place that has sites of forgotten queer history.
The initial reasons for this project go back to the historical opposition that led queer communities to have to create their own spaces in order to survive. That same opposition made it acceptable to take these spaces away, without planning alternatives, and created the environment of shame and discomfort that kept people from speaking up or being able to relay these histories. When they were paved over, not only were the sites erased physically, so was their memory. Though we have made significant progress, in reality, the problem of and displacement and erasure are still very actual. As long as heteronormativity governs, and discrimination exists, queer space will be seen as a threat, and its removal will be allowed. The act of activating these locations of forgotten history is a play on power, to capture the attention of the audience and to ignite a reaction in them. In today’s political and societal climate, it is especially important to do so, in order to educate ourselves and others, to prevent future erasures of queer history.