Digital historians have ethical obligations, especially when they work with materials and subject matters that relate to marginalized communities. Since this project is centered on the culture of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, the Mapping the Gay Guides team strives to make our project ethically responsible, respecting the privacy, perspectives, and dignity of those whose stories are reflected within our work.
The data in Mapping the Gay Guides reflects thousands of sites important to development of queer (mostly gay male) culture since the 1960s. These sites range from churches to bars, bathhouses, coffeehouses, and public parks used as cruising grounds. We are fully conscious of the ethical dilemma that making this sort of data available on the web might arouse. While we expect that the vast majority of visitors to the site will use it as intended (to understand and research the role of physical and commercial space in the rise of queer communities nationwide), we cannot guarantee that this information will not make some of these historical sites potentially unsafe in the present.
To respond to these potential ethical concerns, we want to assure visitors to Mapping the Gay Guides that the entirety of this data is derived from the Damron Address Books. The current dataset (pertaining to the years of 1965-1980) is gathered from scans of the original publications available to researchers on the Alexander Street LGBT Thought and Culture archive. We have taken few liberties (other than cleaning up incorrect or unclear addresses and organizing the types of locations) with the already existing data available to researchers.
Next, a representative sampling of our current dataset suggest that the vast majority of sites listed on Mapping the Gay Guides no longer exist. Many (if not most) of the commercial sites, like bars, bathhouses, stores, and restaurants, are no longer in operation. The changing cultural landscape and financial constraints of these types of businesses mean that many are no longer part of the queer geography (hence the importance of our project). For sites that do still exist, especially places that served as cruising grounds, the shifting nature of how queer people (especially gay men) meet for companionship and sex make our publicly available data less dangerous. As cruising culture now largely takes place online (via dating sites and hookup apps like Grindr), many of these locations no longer serve the function they once did.
Despite these assurances, we recognize that other ethical issues might arise in the future. Mapping the Gay Guides is committed to presenting LGBTQ digital history in an ethical way. We invite you to contact us with any questions or concerns you might have in the future.
–Dr. Amanda Regan & Dr. Eric GonzabaOriginally Published: February 10, 2020 | Last modified: February 11, 2020