LGBTQ History in Cambridge 50 Years of Activism

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LGBTQ+ History in Cambridge: 50 Years of Activism

Although sexual and gender minorities protested against legal harassment, social marginalization, and violence decades before the June 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York, the events of that week galvanized the movement across the nation. While organizations like the Daughters of Bilitis and The Mattachine Society had worked bravely and, often by necessity, quietly for gay rights during the 1950s and 1960s, Stonewall heralded a change in consciousness among gay people (as the term was used then). It transformed a collection of persons with some traits in common into a movement.

There was a lot of work to do and many communities had to start from scratch. Not Cambridge. Here, the nascent gay movement attracted activists seasoned by the civil rights and anti-war movements. The women’s movement in Cambridge, one of the earliest in the U.S., was already under way. Everything from phone lists to strategy was borrowed from prior movements, although gay people had not always been welcomed in them.

Cambridge boasts of many LGBTQ+ firsts in the U.S.: first gender- affirming surgery in Massachusetts (1972), first openly gay black mayor (Kenneth Reeves, 1992), first openly lesbian city councillor (Katherine Triantafillou, 1993), first same-sex marriage license (2004), and first openly lesbian black mayor (E. Denise Simmons, 2008).

To commemorate this history, the Mayor's Office is sponsoring a History Project display on the first floor of City Hall through the month of October. This exhibit recreates artifacts illustrating how Cambridge reacted to the challenge posed by Stonewall. The artifacts were collected by The History Project, Greater Boston’s LGBTQ+ history archives. While these artifacts tell some of the story of some of the people who made a difference, they are by no means definitive. We hope this exhibit will spur viewers to learn more.

If you have a piece of Cambridge history you would like preserved, please contact The History Project at

We hope this exhibit will spur viewers to learn more. Please visit The History Project’s website for more information on LGBTQ+ history in the Boston area at

Project 10 East caption:

Project 10 East is the gay-straight alliance at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. It was the first gay-straight alliance to march in the Pride parade in 1991.

Page was posted on 10/7/2019 11:23 AM
Page was last modified on 2/7/2020 1:40 PM
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