The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project offers three LGBTQ history walking tours in Roanoke, Virginia. In September 2016 we launched our first tour, the Downtown Roanoke LGBTQ History Walking Tour. In September 2017 we launched our second tour, the Old Southwest Gayborhood Walking Tour. And in March 2020 we launch our newest tour, the ‘Before West Station’ LGBTQ Walking Tour!
Our Roanoke LGBTQ History Walking Tours are free monthly walking tours exploring Roanoke’s queer past.
Did you know that Downtown Roanoke once featured as many as six gay bars? On our Downtown Tour, you will learn about the role of downtown businesses, public spaces, and street life in shaping Roanoke’s LGBTQ history. Tour stops may include Roanoke’s late nineteenth- century red light district; places associated with the history of the gay rights activism; and sites of conflict between local government, police, and the LGBTQ community.
Old Southwest Tour
Did you know that Roanoke’s Old Southwest neighborhood is the city’s gayborhood? On our Old Southwest Gayborhood Tour, you will learn about the history of this unique inner-city neighborhood that has provided a home for gay and lesbian residents for the past fifty years. Tour stops may include apartment buildings associated with the gay liberation movement and women’s movement; a former “male brothel”; the former site of Pride in the Park; and sites of conflict between homeowners, historic preservationists, and the LGBTQ community.
West Station Tour
Did you know that the area now known as ‘West Station’ used to be a gathering spot for gay nightlife, sex work, and HIV/AIDS services? On our ‘Before West Station’ Tour, you will learn about the history of downtown’s old West Side and the people and places that previously made this place so queer. Tour stops may include the city’s first gay discotheque; places utilized for early HIV testing and outreach; and sites of conflict associated with gentrification, policing, and violence against LGBTQ people.
Our walking tours are offered Sunday afternoons at 2pm, generally once a month. The 2020 schedule is as follows:
January 12 – Downtown Tour
February 9 – Old Southwest Tour
March 8 – LAUNCH of our new ‘Before West Station’ LGBTQ Walking Tour. More info here.
April 26 – Downtown Tour
May 17 – Old Southwest Tour
June 14 – Downtown Tour
July 12 – West Station Tour
August 9 – Downtown Tour
September 13 – Old Southwest Tour
October 18 – Downtown Tour
November 15 – West Station Tour
December – no tour
Reservations: We do not take reservations for our monthly free tours. You are welcome to just show up (on time)! If you would like to schedule a private tour, please scroll down to “Private tours and group tours.”
Cost: $0. This tour is free. Knowledge is power!
Meeting Places: For the Downtown Tour, we meet inside the City Market building (32 Market Square SE). For the Old Southwest Tour, we meet at the NE corner of Jefferson Street and Elm Avenue (at the “Elmwood Park” sign). For the West Station Tour, we meet at the NW corner of Salem Avenue and 3rd Street SW (in the parking lot in front of the transportation museum). The tours begin promptly at 2pm. Your guide will be there by 1:45pm. Your guide will carry a sign that says “Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project.”
Late arrivals: Our tours do not wait for late arrivals. Tour introductions begin promptly at 2pm and then the group will depart for the walking tour, so please be on time!
Stops for food, drink, or bathrooms: No. However, on the Downtown Tour the City Market building has food and drink for sale as well as public restrooms. For the Old Southwest Tour, the public library nearby has public restrooms and water fountains. For the West Station Tour, there are no nearby public restrooms. Please come prepared to go on a two-hour walking tour without rest stops.
Where and when does the tour end: The Downtown Tour ends at Elmwood Park. The Old Southwest Tour ends at Highland Park. The West Station Tour ends back where we started on Salem Avenue. We always try to end right on time, but we may go a little bit over depending on walking pace and sidewalk conditions. Please note that the Downtown and Old Southwest tours do not end at their starting points. You may have to walk further, after the end of the tour, to return to your parked car or to another destination.
Accessibility: Our Downtown Tour begins in the City Market building but then proceeds exclusively on the sidewalks of downtown Roanoke. The Old Southwest Tour is completely on the sidewalks, although at Highland Park we travel briefly on some bumpy, brick pathways. The West Station Tour is completely outdoors and follows the sidewalks. We welcome people of all mobilities to participate in our tours! Please be advised that the Downtown and West Station tours covers approximately one mile, while the Old Southwest Tour covers approximately two miles. There may be a few steps to climb, depending on the route, but changes can be made if necessary. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about accessibility.
Rain or shine: Yes. We offer these tours twelve months out of the year. Light rain, snow, drizzle, wind, or sun does not impact the tour. Please dress appropriately! In the event that weather is very bad, or road conditions downtown are hazardous, we will announce the cancellation of the tour on Facebook and on this website by 8 AM on the day of the tour.
Private tours and group tours: Yes. We are interested in offering this tour to private groups, school groups, college classes, non-profit organizations, and others! Since launching our tours in 2016 we have offered private walking tours to students from Roanoke College, Hollins University, Radford University, Community High School, and conference participants with the Virginia Association of Museums. Please contact us about making your reservation today!
Other questions? Please contact us!