Locating Queer History with the Addresses Project

I recently sat down with Gwen Shockey in her Brooklyn home to discuss her work on The Addresses Project. Gwen, at 31, is one of the youngest LGBTQ historian-artists in the field. 

The Addresses Project geolocates over 400 current and former queer and lesbian bars in New York City and positions queer/lesbian stories in New York City history. Points on a map provide information on a particular location, including former and current names, its dates of operation as a queer community space, and relevant excerpts from interviews. In addition to an interactive map, the Addresses Project is an oral history archive to which Gwen uploads transcripts of interviews with figures from queer New York history. 

Entry for Bagetelle, a lesbian bar in operation in the 1950s.

Gwen came to this project after the fatal Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016. Wanting to do something with her restless sense of despair, she began work on an oral history archive. She was drawn to figures who have done community forming work in their lives. The map naturally emerged as a central grounding point for the oral history. The bars and clubs where queer community members gathered for nightlife often because spaces of consciousness-raising, organizing, and sharing resources.

Gwen looks to the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project map as an aspirational source. She describes the website as super easy, intuitive, and searchable. The Addresses Project is on its way there. Gwen has done as much as she can on a hobbyist’s budget, using free tools such as Google Maps to bring the project to life, but wants to add functionality such as filtering in the near future. 

I asked Gwen about how her personal media management practices affect her work. Although the Addresses Project is separate from her artistic and professional work, it is prominent in her online presence. She uses her personal platforms to amplify the work she’s doing with the Addresses Project to raise awareness and increase the likelihood that other historians can use it in their own research. 

Gwen borrows time from her day job to work on the Addresses Project during the weekday. Behind the browser window with her work email, and administrative tools are tabs running Dropbox and Google Docs. She listens to interviews, which she records on her iPhone, and transcribes them in long-form. 

While the Addresses Project has been making steady progress since its inception, Gwen would like to see it continue to expand and improve. For example, visitors will notice that the main page of the Address Project directs them with two separate links to the map and oral histories. The archive of oral history interviews is hosted on Squarespace, while the map itself is hosted on Bluehost. This is a pain point for Gwen, as she wishes she could merge the simplicity of a blogging interface that Squarespace offers with the flexibility of the map’s interface. 

Landing page for the Addresses Project on Gwen Shockey’s Squarespace site.

Gwen’s next steps in expanding the archive will involve photography and possibly producing a podcast. On her Instagram page, she writes: “Every time I’ve been lucky enough to do an oral history interview with a lesbian/queer community leader for Addresses Project I’ve regretted not working with a photographer to capture each person’s portrait in the bar/nightclub/community center etc. they risked all to create for other lesbians and queer folks.” She has begun working with a fellow queer artist, Riya Lerner, to document her subjects in the spaces that they made homes out of for their queer communities.

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