Historically, the ability to label or categorize those who were different as “others” provided comfort to those uninformed or afraid of difference, we are talking about the LGBT Community. Charleston is often called “America’s most historic city,” where locals and tourists come to see historical and significant sites of great men and women, and events that helped shape America. It is no surprise that The LGBT community also played a role in shaping “gay America.” Charleston’s local tour company, Bulldog Tours is now offering a tour that highlights the lives of men, women, and non-binary citizens of the holy city who were members of the LGBT community and influenced historical events in Charleston and in the nation.
We (BEAU Magazine) had the chance to sit down with Zach Ford, who runs the Real Rainbow Row tours. The idea behind this tour started as a simple blog post, asking, “Is Charleston a gay friendly city?” Zach began researching more, and with the help of Harlan Greene, Special Collections Curator at College of Charleston, the Rainbow Tour began to unfold.
“Charleston is a melting pot of cultures. Believe it or not, Charleston was once a very liberal city before the American Revolution. LGBT culture was positive, but still considered taboo,” says Zach.
“One story I love to tell people is about Laura Bragg, a lesbian Charleston Museum director. She started a program called the ‘brag box’ where she would bring rural communities in the city artifacts from the museum and educate children who could not afford to go to the museum. This program is still running today!” Zach told BEAU.
“One stop on the tour that always surprises people is when we go to the Battery. Today, it is a beautiful park, but back in the late 60’s and early 70’s it was the gay hangout spot,” Explains Zach. “Back then there was a payphone that residents around the Battery would call to try to pick up the guys hanging out there. Think of it as the Grinder of the day.”
On the tour, Zach also talks about the sodomy laws in Charleston and in South Carolina, the decline of LGBT presence in the 80’s, and also local and state LGBT affairs with Charlestonians such as James Henry Hammond, who had LGBT relations. You can expect to hear stories of LGBT Charlestonians, visit the execution sites of LGBT people, see homes owned by LGBT people, and other sites of historical significance. With so much history in this city, this tour is a must see for anyone who wants to learn more about the “best city in the world.”
The Real Rainbow Row walking tour is a 2-hour interactive exploration. Currently you have to book a private tour with Zach, to book call (843)722-TOUR.
Words by Jonatan Guerrero-Ramirez