On the (Queer) Waterfront: The Factories, Freaks, Sailors, & Sex Workers of Brooklyn

Center for Brooklyn History

This exhibition was originally organized and published by the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Explore the largely forgotten LGBTQ communities that thrived along Brooklyn’s waterfront.

On the (Queer) Waterfront is the first exhibition ever to focus explicitly on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer history of Brooklyn. Since at least 1855, when Walt Whitman published his epic poem Leaves of Grass at a print shop in Brooklyn Heights, there has been a significant – if often overlooked – LGBTQ presence in the borough, much of it clustered along the waterfront, where industrial jobs, cheap housing, and urban anonymity life provided unique opportunities for queer people to explore their own desires and discover one another.

By profiling the many queer individuals who have lived in or passed through Brooklyn in the last 150 years, On the (Queer) Waterfront shows both the changes and continuities in our ideas and experiences of sexuality in Brooklyn. In particular, the exhibit examines five types of work that proved specifically welcoming of or interesting to LGBTQ people: artist, entertainer, sex worker, sailor, and factory worker. The exhibition features evocative photographs, ephemera, and artifacts, while a reading and discussion area offers visitors a space to view relevant books and discuss with one another.

Preview the Exhibit