Although people of diverse gender expressions and romantic and sexual attractions have existed in cultures across the world over the course of human history, documentation of their lives is hard to come by. Rarely did safe spaces exist for people to form community with each other.

By the 1950s, the political and religious atmosphere in the United States—exacerbated by the Cold War fear of Communism and the psychiatric field’s pathologization of homosexuality—created a repressive culture that threatened the physical and economic well-being of anyone who came out.

Out of the public eye, people sought each other out in bars and other places, despite frequent police raids and punishment for dancing with members of the same sex or wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for their gender. Information about these locations was spread by word of mouth, and LGBTQ+ people created subcultures with their own gender and sexual norms. Homophile organizations such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis started to form in the ‘50s and ‘60s in larger cities, mostly for middle-to-upper class white gays and lesbians. In June 1969, riots against police brutality broke out at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village that mostly served people marginalized by the mainstream, including people of color and gender-nonconforming people, sex workers, and homeless youth. The riots are generally thought of as the start of the modern gay liberation movement.

As for Durham, little documentation exists about LGBTQ+ life before the 1970s, especially when it comes to people of color and trans people. If you have information or stories to contribute, please see the Donate page on adding to the collection.