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Site rooted in Rochester’s LGBTQ history among nominees to historic registers

A photo of Todd Union Hall, which is a student union at the University of Rochester
University of Rochester / J. Adam Fenster
Todd Union — a student union hall on the University of Rochester campus — has a rich history when it comes to the LGBTQ+ movement.

Western New York’s first LGBTQ-connected site to be nominated for inclusion in the state and national registers of historic places is right here in Rochester.

Todd Union — a student union hall on the University of Rochester campus — has a rich history when it comes to the movement.

“It's just over 50 years ago that the Gay Liberation Front had their first meeting in Todd Union, really organizing the LGBTQ community of Rochester,” says Larry Francer, the associate director of the Landmark Society of Western New York, a Rochester-based regional preservation organization.

He’s referring to the Rochester branch of the Gay Liberation Front, which has local roots dating back to 1970. It ultimately morphed into the Out Alliance — Rochester’s longstanding LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, which is now reopening after a hiatus.

According to Landmark Society preservation planner Megan Klem, it is unusual for a site to be included in the national or state register for something that she says is “intangible.”

“In this case, we were not necessarily listing the building for its architecture, although that's also beautiful,” she says of the Georgian Revival structure. “But in this case, it was researching the Gay Liberation Front history at the University of Rochester.”

Klem says that when the Rochester branch of the Gay Liberation Front was founded, it acted as a safe space for LGBTQ-identified students, and eventually community members, to have access to counseling services and other resources that were hard to find at the time.

A Speaker’s Bureau was also developed so that members of the community could give public talks and workshops demystifying what it meant to be gay, paving the way for the modern-day LGBTQ movement.

This is the first LGBTQ-connected site in Western New York to be nominated for inclusion in the state and national registers of historic places.

“It's just a wonderful honor, and we deserve it, right?” Francer says.

Other sites represented in the 13 nominations include a public park in Ithaca and a church with ties to Yonkers’ civil rights history.

Jasmin Singer is the host of WXXI’s Weekend Edition and Environmental Connections, as well as a guest host for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Connections.