There’s no mistaking when you’ve entered Navy Yard — Nationals Park is by far the D.C. neighborhood’s most distinguishable landmark. But long before there was a venue to root for the home team, the area was the city’s busiest hub for queer nightlife.
The stadium is one of the highlights of a lesbian history walking tour organized by D.C. Dykaries (Fri., 6-8 p.m., free), a project started by Ty Ginter intended to document and preserve the stories of local queer women. Comprehensive literature on that part of the city’s past is pretty tough to come by, as Ginter found while working on the DC Preservation League’s LGBTQ Historic Context Statement of Washington, D.C., three years ago. The yet-to-be-released statement is meant to be a written document of D.C. queer history.
“All of the official sources that we were using [for the statement] didn’t have a ton of lesbian history,” says Ginter, 24, now a grad student studying historic preservation at the University of Maryland. “I said, ‘Well, someone should do something about this,’ and I decided that someone should be me.”
When the time came to write a graduate thesis a year later, Ginter already had a solid game plan in place. This thesis would be an overview of D.C.’s bygone lesbian spaces, many located in Southeast D.C. But the scale of the project felt a little too big for just a thesis, which led Ginter to form D.C. Dykaries in 2017 with filmmaker B. Williams. The two have interviewed locals who were there to witness history in the making, including former employees of D.C.’s longest-running lesbian bar, Phase 1.
“At first it was hard getting information out of the community because a lot of times community members don’t necessarily know what they can give,” Ginter says. “People can think, ‘Oh, my memory doesn’t matter,’ but in actuality their memory could be the missing link to the puzzle.”
Friday’s tour will start at Nationals Park, where the lesbian club The Other Side and gay bar Ziegfeld’s/Secrets once stood. The route will cover a roughly 2-mile stretch in Southeast and stop at 10 to 15 spots. This is where Ginter’s thesis will come to life — many of the spaces, including Tracks and the dance club Phase 1, are profiled in that project.
The tour is being conducted in partnership with the DC Dyke March (June 7, 6-9 p.m.), which is returning to the District after a 12-year hiatus. Both events are wholly independent from the concurrent Capital Pride Alliance celebration, which some members of the LGBTQ community — such as march organizer Mary Claire Phillips — accuse of lacking inclusiveness.
“There’s rampant violence against trans women of color and other hard-hitting issues that aren’t being discussed at Pride,” Phillips says. “Until every single member of our queer community is recognized, celebrated and supported, there will always need to be a Dyke March.”
The march isn’t solely a protest of Capital Pride, nor is it just for those who identify as lesbian. For Phillips, the march is about reclaiming a derogatory word that has long been used as a weapon against queer women.
“We believe that the word ‘dyke’ is not necessarily a term of just sexuality but more a political identity,” Phillips says. “Anybody who belongs to a marginalized sexuality or gender can benefit from the vision of equality that Dyke March has.”
The theme of this year’s march (the route of which will be announced June 7) is “Dykes Against Displacement,” and the event will raise money for local nonprofits that include ONE DC and Casa Ruby. Gentrification is also, indirectly, a focal point of Ginter’s walking tour, as many of the featured places succumbed to rising rents or — in the case of Ziegfeld’s/Secrets’ building — had to be torn down for new development. Though gone, these venues are not forgotten — Ginter’s thesis will be released publicly by late summer through the University of Maryland, and Ginter plans to continue documenting local venues after graduation.
“The thing about history is that you can’t learn everything,” Ginter says. “You can have as much history written down as possible, but there’s always something new to learn, and that’s one of the reasons why I love what I do.”
Step this way to trace D.C.’s lesbian history
D.C.’s Capitol Hill and Navy Yard neighborhoods are rich in local lesbian history. During D.C. Dykaries’ free walking tour on Friday, Ty Ginter will show you some of the spaces that defined the community. Here are three highlights.
The Other Side, Ziegfeld’s/Secrets
The first stop is a pretty surprising one — Nationals Park? Before the stadium opened in 2008, The Other Side was a go-to spot for local lesbians in the ’70s and ’80s. The bar was owned by Allen Carroll, also the owner of D.C.’s longest-running lesbian club, Phase 1, which closed in 2016. Once The Other Side closed in the late ’80s, the space was taken over by gay bar Ziegfeld’s/Secrets. “[The building was] later taken by eminent domain and bulldozed to make room for the stadium,” Ginter says. Three years later, Ziegfeld’s/Secrets relocated a few blocks away.
A block from Nationals Park, a WeWork co-working space now sits on the former site of Tracks, a massive warehouse dance venue that thrived in the ’80s and ’90s. “It was very popular, especially with lesbians,” Ginter says. “It was also popular with people of color too, though not necessarily friendly to people of color.” The club closed for good in 1999.
Lammas Women’s Books & More
Lammas opened in 1974 as a jewelry store before evolving into a lesbian feminist bookstore. “Lammas was one of the last places besides the Phase where older lesbians felt comfortable outside of their own homes,” Ginter says. The business moved to Dupont Circle before closing in 2000, while the old space now houses a card and gift shop.