BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's time now to take you on a little history tour of Buffalo through the eyes of Leslie Feinberg, a transgender lesbian activist and writer. Her novel "Stone Butch Blues" is based on her own experience coming of age in Buffalo. As you read, you’re taken back in time to real places in the Queen City, which hold a rich LGBTQ+ history.
The first stop is the corner of Franklin and West Tupper. The guide for this journey is Dr. Jeff Iovannone, a Buffalo native who recently finished another master’s degree from Cornell University in historic preservation planning.
History is his thing. So is the preservation of it, especially when bringing the LGBTQ+ community into the conversation.
“LGBTQ people are typically not born into families that have an understanding of our history and our culture,” Iovannone said. “So, place and space have been important.”
That's especially true, Iovannone says, when it comes to forming a community and resisting oppression. Iovannone says many places might not be architecturally distinctive, so they're lost in time.
To start the tour, we learn about Leslie Feinberg’s Buffalo at Franklin and West Tupper.
“That intersection was a space where lesbian and gay people were socializing in the late 1960s and '70s, and we can see that on all four corners of the intersection,” Iovannone said.
A number of the buildings are demolished. But thanks to his labor of love, you can see them in this exhibit. It took Iovannone three years to build the website. It’s filled with historical postcards, flyers, pictures and maps. In total, he lists 41 sites from the book.
“It’s really, in part, because of this book that I am a historian,” Iovannone said. “It was the first piece of Buffalo LGBTQ history I encountered 20 years ago when I was an undergraduate.”
The digital exhibit is part of Preservation Buffalo Niagara’s 'Gay Places Initiative,' launched in March and marking 30 years since the book’s publication.
Iovannone hope is this journey back in time inspires not only the LGBTQ+ community, but everyone to look at Buffalo’s built environment through a new lens "and to have a better understanding of LGBTQ peoples’ contributions to Buffalo as a city,” Iovannone said.
It also serves as a reminder that history isn’t something that was in the past.
“It provides us with a map to navigate the future in a way that everyone can have a more livable and fulfilling life,” Iovannone smiled.
The digital exhibit is just the beginning for Iovannone. He recently started a job as the preservation planner for the Landmark Society of WNY, working on its LGBTQ initiative. The exhibit is free.