Skip to Main Content

Boston's LGBTQ+ History: Home

A guide to the historical resources about the LGBTQ+ community collected at the Boston Public Library

A Brief Intro to Orientation & Identity

Humans have a variety of sexual orientations (gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, queer, etc.) and gender identities (cisgender, transgender, agender, genderqueer, third gender, etc.). Our society is learning to recognize and respect these different identities, but the resources here should help you get started. Below are some basic questions and definitions to help identify the basics of sexual and gender identity and expression.

What does QUILTBAG mean?

QUILTBAG is an acronym for Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexuals, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer. As with any collection of terms, it is always evolving. QUILTBAG is fun because it spells out a word, but people are just as likely to use LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA, MOGAI, and a whole host of others.

What is sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is defined as a person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual. This is separate from their gender identity or gender expression. 

What is gender identity?

The term “gender identity” is distinct from the term “sexual orientation” and refers to a person’s innate, deeply felt psychological identification as a man, woman, transgender, agender, nonbinary, or other gender, which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth (i.e., the sex listed on their birth certificate).

Why use the word "queer" when it used to be a slur?

Sometimes marginalized groups work to reclaim a term used as a slur as a way of feeling empowered and taking power away from bigots. Community opinion on this varies and some people prefer to avoid a term that has caused pain.


Boston's LGBTQ+ History

The history of the LGBTQ+ community in Boston is long and complex. Given that sexual orientation and gender identity are intensely personal and often hidden from the public for social or practical reasons, finding reliable information about that history can be difficult. This guide was created to help with that research by providing starting points and highlighting particular resources that are likely to shed unique light on a research inquiry. As always, if you need help access or using a resource or have further research needs, please ask a librarian or email us at

General Resources

These digital resources are good places to start to find general information on the LGBTQ+ Community and access large numbers of primary sources in one place. Some of these resources are cited more specifically elsewhere in this guide.