America has come a long way in accepting its queer citizens. Every June, symbols of LGBTQIA+ support can be found almost everywhere, with many organizations making their logos rainbow in solidarity. While these milestones are significant, we must remember how far we have come as a community.
Buffalo’s Role In LGBTQIA+ History
Growing up as one of Buffalo, NY’s first publicly out Black trans women, artist and activist Arrie Moore got to witness firsthand the city’s evolving acceptance of queer people. “There were gay and lesbian societies in the United States going back to the founding of the country, but as time proceeded, gay and lesbian individuals were not only stigmatized but outlawed,” says Moore. “You could be fired from your job for being a homosexual.”
Folks like Adrienne Hill and Ana Grujić of the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project, recognize the astounding struggles that local queer people have had to overcome. “People are suddenly realizing that Stonewall and San Francisco, while important, are not the whole story,” says Hill. Most conversations surrounding LGBTQIA+ history focus on major coastal cities like New York City and San Francisco, but pivotal milestones in LGBTQIA+ history occurred right here in Buffalo.
For example, Buffalo is the site of two major legal cases that fought the criminalization of being gay in public. The first is the famous 1980 case, New York vs. Onofre, which repealed the unconstitutional sodomy laws in New York State. The primary defendant of this case was from Syracuse, but the co-defendant was a Black gay man from Buffalo named Conde Peoples. This court case set a precedent used to repeal many sodomy laws nationally. These critical milestones in LGBTQIA+ history are important to recognize because like the segregation laws of the Civil Rights era, they remind us that less than fifty years ago, queer people were criminalized just for being themselves.
“We’re really lucky here in Buffalo because we have one of the biggest LGBTQ archives in the country, possibly even the world,” says Hill. Hill cites Madeline Davis, a lesbian activist, archivist, folk singer, and author, as a major reason Buffalo has a somewhat preserved queer history. “There’s this huge national movement to create these local queer history projects,” says Hill. “We don’t have to build an archive from scratch because Madeline Davis already started building it.”
In the interest of sustaining Buffalo’s incredible legacy, Arrie Moore had an idea. She approached local illustrator, graphic designer, gallery owner, and active LGBTQIA+ community member, Mickey Harmon, on creating a mural featuring Madeline Davis, Conde Peoples, and thirty other local and national LGBTQIA+ icons that have paved the way for the country to be as inclusive as it is today. Commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery Public Art Initiative, the Stonewall Nation: WNY LGBT History mural on 44 Allen Street was completed in 2020. Now, every day, Buffalo citizens can look up and learn how far the queer community has come while walking down Allen Street.
Talking with Buffalo’s LGBTQIA+ Leaders
As a proud sponsor of Buffalo Pride Week, Life Storage was thrilled to chat with eight of Buffalo’s outstanding, present-day, LGBTQIA+ leaders. We hope that through learning more about their perspectives and their excellent work, we can all learn to better celebrate queer progress not just in June, but all year round.
Mickey Harmon & Arrie Moore
Stonewall Nation: WNY LGBT History Mural
“We were all human until race disconnected us, religions separated us, politics divided us, and wealth pacified us.”Arrie Moore
As an artist, co-owner of Pine Apple Company, and First Friday Committee Chair for the Allentown Association, Mickey Harmon is at the heart of what it means to be a queer creative in Buffalo. Similarly, as Buffalo’s first prominently out Black trans woman, artist Arrie Moore has established herself as a leader and matriarch of the local movement for decades.
It was when their paths crossed that magic began to happen. “Arrie approached me about the lack of queer murals in town. She basically walked into Pine Apple Company and said “… you’re going to help me create this,”” says Mickey. From there, they met monthly to sketch and whittle down a list of local and national LGBTQIA+ activists and performers that have touched Buffalo and beyond. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery gave them the platform to execute the mural with equipment and supplies. M&T Bank provided funding and support to the mural.
“It’s only through connection and true community building – meeting with one another and collaboration – can we achieve true understanding.”Mickey Harmon
“It took us about 9 days last August to execute it, and I am so proud every time I see it from my gallery at 65 Allen Street, just a half-block away,” says Mickey. The featured leaders, cultural producers, advocates, and entertainers included in the mural are Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Henry “Harry” Hay Jr., Hal Call, Frank O’Hara, William “Bill” H. Gardner, Don Licht, Dr. James “Jim” D. Haynes, Madeline Davis, Ann Hubbard, Sam Loliger, Don Behr, Mark Bozer, Mary Thomas, Bobbi Prebis, Alexis DeVeaux, Leslie Feinberg, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Tangarra, Dorian Corey, Vicky Vogue, Carol Speser, Peggie Ames, and Conde Peoples.
Adrienne Hill & Ana Grujić
Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project
“Let your understanding of a person’s life and a person’s struggle come from letting their story wash over you and resist the temptation to categorize it.”Adrienne Hill
For Adrienne Hill and Ana Grujić, Buffalo has become their home away from home. Hill (originally from Portland, Oregon) met Grujić (originally from Belgrade, Yugoslavia), while attending Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH. After completing their degrees there, they moved to Western New York.
“In 2016, I was going to Cornell University, reviewing their human sexuality archive,” says Hill. “I would post some of my findings on Facebook and a local activist contacted me saying, “how would you feel about starting a history project on local LGBTQ movements?” I didn’t know it at the time, but I really feel like I found my calling.” From then on, the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project was born.
“There will be things that you do not understand, but understanding should not be the condition for granting respect.”Ana Grujić
The Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project is made up of a core group of volunteers working to document and celebrate the vibrant history of the queer community in Western New York, and it has become most widely known for its community events. Their most popular exhibit is their “Gay Liberation NOW!” series. This traveling exhibit for local libraries and community spaces showcases the resilient history of the Buffalo queer community from the early 1900s. A major focus of the exhibit is the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, Buffalo’s first gay rights organization that was founded in the 1960s. The next chapter of the project is working to have historic plaques placed at locations of significance throughout the city. Most recently, at North Street and Irving Place, the Bob Uplinger Historical Plague was installed. This is where Bob Uplinger was arrested in 1981 for inviting an undercover cop posing as a young gay man back home with him. During this time, most people would have pleaded guilty to the charge. Instead, Uplinger brought the case to the New York State Court of Appeals in Albany, and the court ruled in his favor 6 to 1.
Evergreen Health Foundation & The Pride Center of WNY
“For many of us in the LGBTQ+ community, we’ve spent a lot of our lives being ashamed of ourselves. Pride is a reminder to celebrate our uniqueness and be proud of our community for how far it has come.”Rob Baird
Rob Baird is the Director of Advancement for the Evergreen Health Foundation. Every June, the Evergreen Health Foundation hosts the annual Buffalo Pride Week, which is sponsored by several local organizations including Life Storage. Evergreen Health is a safe, affirming health care center that provides sensitive care that mainstream service providers don’t always administer properly due to a lack of knowledge, understanding, or acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community. They are dedicated to helping their patients feel safe, valued, and welcomed, providing services like medical care, counseling, educational/social groups, and more. The Pride Center of WNY is an affiliate of Evergreen, and its mission is to work with the WNY community to make a safe, healthy, and satisfying place for LGBTQ+ people to live, work and establish their families. Established in 2001, The Pride Center’s goal is to promote the lifelong health and well-being of LGBTQ+ people, by providing services and hosting events that support the LGBTQ+ community and make WNY a more equitable place.
To learn more about the excellent resources provided by these organizations, check out the websites for The Pride Center of WNY and Evergreen Health. To participate in this year’s Buffalo Pride Week, check out their website.
Denise Sweet & Tinamarie Sweet
Black Intelligent Ladies Alliance & Sweets Lounge and Restaurant
“Pride means celebrating being liberated into society. It’s all about being free, happy, and who you feel you really are.”Denise & Tinamarie Sweet
Denise and Tinamarie Sweet are not just life partners, but business partners as well. They are co-owners of Sweets Lounge & Restaurant and President and Vice-President of the Black Intelligent Ladies Alliance. Sweets is an LGBTQIA+ inclusive restaurant, lounge, and bar located in the Eastside of Buffalo that hosts regular queer-supportive parties and events. It acts as a safe space for those who need a sense of community. The Black Intelligent Ladies Alliance is a nonprofit focused on elevating black, diverse women. As there can be limited resources available for black queer women, their mission is to integrate, socialize, and join forces in support of the needs of their community.
Ending the AIDS Epidemic Subcommittee & Upstate New York Black-Latino Pride
“To be an ally is to understand that allyship is an action whenever it’s performed. Supporting a community does not mean you will understand every cultural nuance, but still have respect for a person’s individual experience.”Tajé Jenkins-Jones
Tajé Jenkins-Jones is an activist, educator, and special presenter focused on queer youth, LGBTQIA+ health awareness, and drag & ballroom culture. Most notably, he is a subcommittee chairperson for the Western New York Ending the AIDS Epidemic taskforce and the founder of Upstate New York Black-Latino Pride. The Ending the AIDS Epidemic task force is a state-funded movement with the goal to maximize the availability of life-saving treatments for HIV patients. The goal of the ETE task force is to ensure a future where new infections are rare, that those living with the disease have normal lifespans with few complications, and that no person is left behind regardless of income or background.
The subcommittee creates safe and productive spaces where community members can feel comfortable creating healthy relationships and finding access to the care that they need. To get involved with Tajé’s important work check out the End HIV in Western New York website and the Upstate New York Black-Latino Pride Facebook page.