As you (hopefully) have read from my previous posts, I am very much into learning about and discovering Newark’s past and present as well as behind-the-scenes of my city and neighbors–all 282,000 of them.
One such discovery includes the free downtown walking tours offered as part of this summer’s activities at Military Park on Thursdays at 6pm. I have been on three already. Each of them offered me insight on what the future may look like downtown during an architectural tour by a recent NJIT architecture graduate, the historical significance of buildings that were once home to something else before what they are today, and 19th century mansions that were once home to early influential Newarkers and are still maintained as private residences today. Fortunately, they are preserved and their history is remembered while other facets of Newark’s history is not as easily so.
Case in point: this week’s tour by The Queer Newark Oral History Project (QNOHP). I had no idea such a project existed and was very curious to learn more ahead of the tour. After doing some research, I contacted them via Facebook asking for an interview. I received a quick reply from Kristyn Scorsone, a staff member of the project who agreed to meet up with me.
I learned QNOHP is a community-based and community driven project that aims to collect and preserve the voices and history of Newark’s LGBTQ community based out of Rutgers-Newark. It was founded six years ago this summer by activist, writer, and the first chair of the City of Newark’s advisory Commission on LGBTQ Concerns, Darnell Moore and Rutgers-Newark colleagues, History Professor Beryl Satter, and Christina Strasburger, Department Administrator for the History and African-American and African Studies Departments.
This was in response to how queer history often only includes the contributions of white gay men and to a lesser extent, white lesbians in cities like New York or San Francisco. “Newark gets overshadowed, especially people of color. This project is trying to rectify this history,” says Scorsone.
The public archive is available to anyone with Internet access. By no means is it complete and want to continue to “capture people’s voices.” They are also collecting physical items to add to their collection and “recently received a generous donation from James Credle, a former dean at Rutgers-Newark and highly decorated Vietnam veteran and leader in Newark’s LGBTQ community. If interested in participating, I have included several ways for you to contact them at the end of this post.
These absolutely free tours, the first of its kind are for anyone who wants to know more about Newark’s queer history and led by four facilitator “to reflective nature of our team.”
Scorsone shares, “I would like to point out that although many of the queer spaces in Newark that we point out no longer exist, that this is not a tour about loss, but about potential and growth. The queer community, like other communities, shifts and changes, but it’s still here and it’s visible. You just have to know where to look! So on this tour we are asking folks to think about how has this community been expressed over time?”
Tour highlights include: the former location of Murphy’s Tavern that was located on Edison Place; Broad and Market Streets, where in 2007, Sakia Gunn, a 15 year old teen was killed for rebuking a straight male’s advances as well as a discussion about the documentary Out in the Night; stops along Halsey Street that is home to a number of LGBTQ businesses, and end at the Newark LGBTQ Community Center.
Narrowing down the topics and stops were not easy because there are (were) many throughout the city. Scorsone, says of the ones they chose “we feel they give a good overview of Newark’s queer history and the various contributions queer people have made in Newark. We also wanted to highlight the community’s resiliency and how they have built a queer cultural landscape in Newark that existed in the past and still continues to flourish.”
How can you help make this possible? Queer Newark is always looking for volunteers with interviewing and transcribing as well as anyone who can help with website design. They are always looking for more people who would like to be interviewed for the project! If you are interested in being interviewed for the project you send message on Facebook or Twitter (@QueerNewark) or email at email@example.com.