While Ithaca is often thought of as an LGBTQA friendly area, there is very little available to point to its LGBTQA history. Until now.
Rachel Steinmetz was looking for an opportunity to intern for a semester and found an online resource she wanted to be involved with: the Ithaca College Center for Education, Outreach, and Services. Steinmetz is a Communications Studies major graduating this year. LGBTQA studies and history were not her area of study but were of interest to her. Her main role in the project consisted of interviewing residents of the area with a connection to the LGBTQA history of Ithaca and the surrounding areas. It’s not something she ever expected to be doing.
“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “Getting to talk to people, and do research, and it was all really interesting and I’m so glad I ended up doing it.”
She chose to approach Luca Maurer, the director of the center, for an internship because they had connected the year earlier when Steinmetz was looking for ways to make the on-campus chapel more inclusive.
Once Steinmetz had compiled a lot of the interviews there was more information than anyone had anticipated. While looking for information for the tour the team just kept uncovering more and more relevant information. For example, while doing research the team kept finding something about the Ithaca Statement on Bisexuality. At first, they thought it was possible that this statement might have originated in Ithaca, Greece, not Ithaca, New York. But after some digging, they found that the statement was born out of a conference of Quakers that was held right here in Ithaca, on the IC campus. The walking tour currently has 32 stops and still doesn’t include all of the information that Steinmetz found.
“We had to decide what we thought was most valuable to the audience but there were so many other things that we could have added,” she said. The tour was put on PocketSights, a walking tour app that was actually created right here in Ithaca, and is available for anyone with an interest in LGBTQA history. While there is an option for the tour to be guided by an automated voice, the team decided to record the tour information themselves. Steinmetz and several other students, and Maurer can be heard narrating the tour.
“We wanted to make the best walking tour possible so we had to make that commitment,” Steinmetz said of the hours they all spent in the studio recording.
“As LGBTQA people, we rarely get to tell our own stories,” Maurer said. “So, this is the history of our community, by members of our community. And I also think it’s a tool for really thinking critically and discussing not only LGBTQA history, but exploring whose stories get told and why and how and by whom?”
One of Maurer’s student workers in the center had experience putting together a history walking tour, which made its creation a little easier. Maurer said he hadn’t known that PocketSights was a local company when they decided to use it, but are delighted that it is. Maurer said that after taking a birds-eye view of all the information, they all agreed that a walking tour was the best way to share it with the community.
“Not only is that an engaging way to present this kind of information, but that also lends itself to being able to customize,” he said. “We, right now, have 32 physical sights over seven miles, but that also means that a number are clustered.”
Several spots are close together on the IC campus, some are grouped together on the Cornell University campus, many of them can be found near downtown Ithaca. But when a participant opens the walking tour they can choose where to start, and how many spots to stop at. The tour can be listened to with the audio option, or simply read on the screen.
“It was really important to us that it be accessible to people in a variety of different ways, with a variety of different abilities,” Maurer said.
The LGBTQA community rarely learns about its own history in school, or from families, or from religious institutions. Maurer hopes that this tour can help close that gap locally by offering this history for free to everyone.
“LGBTQA folks have always been part of this community, and all communities, so it’s very powerful to learn about those people who literally did the work so that we can be who we are today,” he said. “And at the same time, it’s also very powerful for non-LGBTQA people to have opportunities to learn this history too. For us, it shows us role models and mentors and the fact that LGBTQA people are resilient and resourceful and very determined, but it also fills a needed void for non-LGBTQA people who may have had this sense of ‘Oh, what’s all this new LGBTQA thing? That’s a new idea.’ No, it’s not. We’ve been valuable contributors to our society and our culture.”
Maurer and some of the students he works with have already given tours using the walking tour map and plan on holding more this summer. But for those who can’t wait, it can be found on PocketSights now.
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