The Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project offers three LGBTQ history walking tours in Roanoke, Virginia. In 2016 we launched our first tour, the Downtown Roanoke LGBTQ History Walking Tour. In 2017 we launched our second tour, the Old Southwest Gayborhood Walking Tour. In 2020, we began offering our newest tour, the Salem Avenue Historic District 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 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 residential buildings associated with the gay liberation movement and women’s movement; a former brothel; the former site of Pride in the Park; and sites of conflict between homeowners, historic preservationists, and the LGBTQ community.
Salem Avenue Tour
Did you know that the area now encompassed by the Salem Avenue-Roanoke Automotive Commercial Historic District used to be a gathering spot for gay nightlife, sex work, and HIV/AIDS services? On our Salem Avenue 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 2023 schedule is as follows:
March 12 = Downtown Tour
April 16 = Old Southwest Tour
May 14 = Downtown Tour
June 4 = Downtown Tour – *special Pride Month edition*
June 11 = Old Southwest Tour – *special Pride Month edition*
June 25 = Salem Avenue Tour – *special Pride Month edition*
July 16 = Downtown Tour
August 13 = Salem Avenue Tour
September 17 = Downtown Tour
October 22 = Old Southwest Tour
November 12 = Downtown Tour
*COVID-19 Restrictions*: We reserve the right to limit capacity on all tours; this decision will be made by the tour guide. Please maintain an appropriate distance (social distancing) from other tour participants, including the tour guide. The tour guide has the right to refuse your participation if you do not comply with COVID-19-related best practices. You participate at your own risk.
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); if the building is closed, we meet outside the Salem Avenue entrance to the Market building. For the Old Southwest Tour, we meet at the Highland Park fountain (near the entrance to Joel Richert Way). For the Salem Avenue Tour, we meet at the NE corner of Salem Avenue and 3rd Street SW (in the empty lot in front of the transportation museum). 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, there are no nearby public restrooms; Southwest Market and Sunnyside Market have food and drinks for sale. For the Salem Avenue Tour, there are no nearby public restrooms; food and drink are for sale at various establishments along Salem Avenue. 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 Salem Avenue 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 each tour does not end exactly at its starting point. You may have to walk a few blocks, at 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 mostly on city sidewalks, but at Highland Park we travel briefly along a bumpy, brick pathway. Please alert your guide if an alternate route is necessary. The Salem Avenue Tour is exclusively on the city sidewalks. We welcome people of all mobilities to participate in our tours! Please be advised that the Downtown and Salem Avenue tours cover approximately one mile, while the Old Southwest Tour covers approximately two miles. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about accessibility.
Rain or shine: Yes. We offer tours year-round. 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 are hazardous, we will announce the cancellation of the tour on Facebook and Instagram 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! We ask for a suggested donation of $100 for private tours ($50 goes to the tour guide; $50 to the Trans Wellness Fund). Since launching our tours in 2016 we have offered private walking tours to students from Roanoke College, Hollins University, Radford University, Washington & Lee University, Virginia Tech, Community High School, conference participants from the Virginia Association of Museums, and also a few local church congregations. Please contact us about making your reservation today!
Other questions? Please contact us!