The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project offers two queer history-themed 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!
Our Roanoke LGBTQ History Walking Tours are free monthly two-hour 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; the site of Southwest Virginia’s first gay bar from the 1950s; places associated with the history of the gay liberation movement; 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.
The walking tour is offered Sunday afternoons, 2pm – 4pm, once a month, as follows:
May 19, 2019 – Downtown Tour
July 7, 2019 – Old Southwest Tour
Stay tuned for more information, including future tour dates!
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). 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, for 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. 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. We always try to end right at 4pm, but we may go a little bit over depending on walking pace and sidewalk conditions. Please note that both of these tours do not end at their starting points. You may have to walk further, after 4pm, 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. We welcome people of all mobilities to participate in this tour! Please be advised that we cover approximately two miles. Google Maps says this equals roughly 40 minutes of walking. 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!