Cambridge City Hall is framed by a rainbow-painted bench celebrating the LGBTQ+ community

Help History Cambridge and The History Project document the LGBTQ+ experience in Cambridge

Above image: Cambridge City Hall is framed by a rainbow-painted bench celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: City of Cambridge)

By Beth Folsom

Cambridge is a well-known leader in LGBTQ+ rights. The city was first in Massachusetts to perform gender-affirming surgery in 1972, and in 2004 it became first in the country to grant same-sex marriage licenses. City government has also seen many “firsts,” from the first openly gay Black mayor (Kenneth Reeves) in 1992, to the first openly lesbian city councilor (Katherine Triantafillou) in 1993 to the first openly lesbian Black mayor (E. Denise Simmons) in 2008. Since the mid-20th century, many of its residents and organizations have been vocal advocates for queer and trans rights alongside those of women, people of color and immigrants.

Despite a lack of publicly recognized, concerted efforts to advance LGBTQ+ rights before the past century, queer and trans Cantabrigians were present and active in many aspects of the city’s life since its founding. From stories of prominent residents, such as members of the Longfellow family to those whose experiences are not widely known, especially women, Bipoc individuals and members of the transgender community, these citizens have shaped all aspects of Cambridge and its history indelibly.

To grow the queer historical record and uncover these stories, History Cambridge, in collaboration with The History Project, is looking for participants for a new oral history photography project focusing on the queer and trans experience in Cambridge.

If you are LBGTQ+ or similarly identifying, consider participating and contributing your story as a queer person in Cambridge to the historical record. We are interested in your experiences in the city, past and present, and invite you to take our survey, whether or not you wish to participate in the broader project.

Participation in the larger project would include an audio-recorded conversational interview and an informal portrait photography session in a space that has significance to you and your experiences in the city.

History Cambridge is working to create a “Queer History Hub” on our website. The oral histories and photographs from this project will be included in that forthcoming resource, as well as published through other means. We are collaborating with the city’s LGBTQ+ Commission, gathering archival resources from the Cambridge Historical Commission, the Cambridge Public Library and other repositories around the city and region for the hub.

An organization committed to collecting and sharing stories of all of Cambridge, History Cambridge believes that each individual is an expert in their own history, and that we need the shared knowledge of Cantabrigians from a wide variety of identities and experiences to understand the city’s past and shape a better collective future. We are pleased to partner with The History Project on this endeavor, as we seek to further enrich the historical archive with stories from the local LGBTQ+ community.

“Often LGBTQ+ stories and experiences are overlooked, so it is our pleasure as Greater Boston’s LGBTQ+ community archives to partner with History Cambridge to uncover and share stories of queer and trans citizens of Cambridge. These underrepresented narratives of Cambridge’s history should, and will be, freely available for all,” says Joan Ilacqua, executive director of The History Project.

To participate in the project, or for information, please contact Marieke Van Damme, executive director of Cambridge History, at or (617) 547-4252. We invite you to sign up for History Cambridge’s newsletter to stay up-to-date on this and other upcoming events and programs.

Beth Folsom is programs manager for History Cambridge.

This article was originally published in our “Did You Know?” column in Cambridge Day.