Boston wears its history with pride. From the Pilgrims to the Revolutionary War to the various immigrant communities that have shaped its four century-long history, this is a city with stories on every street corner. But for a place that is often perceived as old fashioned or perhaps conservative, Boston also has a long history as a hotbed of a different type of revolution—gay rights.
While LGBTQ+ people have certainly been a part of Boston from the beginning, they started to become more visible after World War II in the 1940’s, when flocks of single gay men started moving to the South End.
Later in the twentieth century, Boston became an epicenter for gay rights. Massachusetts repealed its sodomy laws in 1974, long before many other states. GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) formed in the basement of the Old West Church in 1978. In 1993, the state began allowing second-parent adoption by a parent of the same sex, and by 1999 courts began slowly awarding more and more parental rights to same-sex couples. The state of Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. In 2018, Massachusetts led the way, again, by becoming the first state to support transgender protections through popular vote; and in 2019, the state banned conversion therapy on LGBTQ minors.
These days, Boston’s gay scene feels more accepting and integrated than ever—but a few LGBTQ landmarks remain. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. Get your bearings on Boston’s gay scene with a stroll through the historic South End, the country’s largest surviving district of Victorian-era row houses. With eleven parks, countless brownstones and miles and miles of restaurants and shops, it is Boston’s quintessential walking neighborhood. On a beautiful day, there is no better spot for dinner and cocktails than the back terrace at award-winning Italian restaurant S.R.V. And for a souvenir to bring home, check out the selection at Olives & Grace, where owner and South End resident Sofi Madison helps customers pinpoint the perfect gifts for their loved ones.
2. Founded in 1980, The History Project is a volunteer-run archive of LGBTQ history. With over a million items in its collection, it is one of the largest independent LGBTQ archives in the country. Its current exhibition “Hanky Panky” gives a cheeky look into the history of gay cruising culture of the 1970’s and 80’s.
3. For a breathless night of dancing and drag queens, check out Club Café, the city’s most beloved gay bar. This institution actually began as Café Calypso located a few blocks away in the South End but has been in its current location for over thirty years. Its famous street-level windows are an important reminder that being LGBTQ means never having to hide who you are.
4. Although currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Trophy Room is a neighborhood hangout that welcomes all. Stop by for dinner with friends in a relaxed sports bar atmosphere and linger over drinks as the crowd starts to arrive. As the night goes on, this turns into the preferred socialization spot for Boston’s LGBTQ community.
5. Get out of town for a day or two and take the ferry across Cape Cod Bay over to Provincetown. This beachy resort town was where the original Mayflower first landed when the Pilgrims arrived in North America, and today is an international beach destination drawing LGBTQ folk from around the world. An escape to Provincetown can be as wild or as tame as you’d like it to be. Make sure to consult the Provincetown Office of Tourism calendar to learn more about the numerous festivals going on throughout the year, including Bear Week, Family Week and Women’s Week.