The Real Rainbow Row
The Real Rainbow Row tour is a walk through time and through space, through both sad and celebratory events. Site by site, street by street, here you can meet figures from the past – a possible intersex person in the antebellum era, a celebrated lesbian who taught school as the civil war broke out, drag queens, cultural icons, solid citizens, nationally known artists, – even Black and White clients of a male brothel in the 19th century. It all happened here, down that street, around the corner, in the park, along the Battery.
Welcome to LGBTQ Charleston!
Even before there was a Charleston, Spanish explorers in the 1500s found LGBTQ indigenous peoples living in the lowcountry. When we were founded by the English in 1670, many claimed that a man, who might be called gay today, was aboard the very first ship.
Florence O’Sullivan left no children, but his namesake is nearby Sullivan’s Island. Following him came LGBTQ pirates and sailors, soldiers, artists, cultural leaders, average men and women just living out their lives as honestly as the times allowed, as well as national leaders, poets and politicians.
For over 350 years, the city has been enriched by a startling array of queer people who lived here, or who passed through, and some who died here tragically. Through their actions and gifts, they all contributed to the vibrant, artistic, cultural, and welcoming place the city is today, changing not just Charleston, but the country, too.
The Real Rainbow Row:
A Self Guided Walking Tour
Their stories never told before, are ready for exploring… The tour begins at Explore Charleston at 375 Meeting Street and sites vary a few blocks east and west all the way down to where Meeting Street ends at the Battery. Two to two and half hours should allow you to see them all; of course, you may want to stop, shop, take breaks, and see some of the museums along the way.
A note on the name:
Rainbow Row (on the tour route) is a group of vibrantly hued early houses on East Bay Street. Yes, gay people lived there, but this site, one of the most iconic in town, is emblematic not just of Charleston, but because of the variety of styles, transitions, eras, facades, and variety, it also is emblematic of Charleston’s centuries old LGBTQ history, too.
Want to know more?
Charleston LGBTQ history does not end here.
To book a lecture, find our more on the topic, or arrange a tour with the author of The Real Rainbow Row website and book, contact Harlan Greene at [email protected]
You can also order the companion volume, over 300 pages and over 350 years of more stories.
And to learn more about the SC LGBTQ Oral Histories, Archives and Outreach Project, which is documenting more of this history visit https://speccoll.cofc.edu/lgbtq/. Donations are tax deductible.