Here at TalkDeath, we have talked about how LGBTQ people are not represented in death in ways that affirm who they were, who they loved, and how they lived their lives. From cemeteries refusing headstones that acknowledge gay marriage to practices of deadnaming transgender people at their funerals, there is still much work to be done to make deathcare and memorialization inclusive for everyone.
However, since the 1980s, there has been a steady increase in the number of monuments and memorials erected to address these violences. As social awareness and empathy have grown for LGBTQ people, more spaces are being created to help us collectively work through traumatic events, honor victims and survivors, and rethink the past. As architecture scholar Julian Bonder notes, monuments can be transformative in their ability to encourage critical consciousness and inspire visitors to engage in practices that envision a more equitable world.
This Pride Month, we’re featuring eight sites around the world that are doing this work by resisting the erasure of queer experiences and demanding rights and respect for all.
LGBTQ+ Memorials and Monuments Around the World
Pulse Nightclub Memorial in Orlando, Florida
In 2016, a shooter killed 49 people and wounded 53 at Pulse, a nightclub and hub of the queer community in Orlando, Florida. To this day, it stands as the deadliest incident committed against LGBTQ people in the US. The outside of the club has now become an interim memorial where families and friends regularly leave Pride flags, flowers, and remembrances to their loved ones. It has also become a visually striking indictment of the hate LGBTQ people still face, with large placards featuring statements such as “We will not let hate win.”
In May 2021, the US House of Representatives passed a bill designating Pulse as a national memorial. Plans are in the works to create a permanent monument and museum that will stand for love, acceptance, and hope.
Homomonument in Amsterdam, Netherlands
In the late 1980s, countries around the world began to build monuments honoring the thousands of gay people persecuted by the Nazi party, who were seen as a threat to the survival of the “Aryan” race. The first was Homomonument in Amsterdam in 1987. Located along the Keizersgracht Canal, the design features three pink granite triangles that form a larger triangle—the symbol gay people were forced to wear in concentration camps. These triangles are also meant to reflect the past, present, and future while acknowledging significant sites within the city.
One vertex points to the National War Memorial, where LGBTQ activists first began laying lavender wreaths for victims and survivors in the 1970s. Another faces COC Nederland, a gay-rights organization, while the third points towards the Anne Frank House. The ways in which these design elements hold public space for queer life and and reclaim the pink triangle as a sign of pride has influenced many other memorials, such as the Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorials in Sydney, Australia, and Tel Aviv, Israel. Reflecting this spirit of reclamation, Homomonument has become the site of celebrations hosted by local gay and lesbian associations throughout the year.
Stonewall National Monument in New York City
The Stonewall National Monument in New York City is the first national monument dedicated to the American LGBTQ civil rights movement. Dedicated in 2016, the site commemorates the uprising in June 1969, where patrons and employees of the Stonewall Inn fought against a police raid, a scenario that was routine at gay bars at the time. It was not the first time LGBTQ people demanded civil rights in such a setting, but the six-day-long uprising was the first to catch national attention and alter public consciousness.
The shift was radical—as author Erin Marcus notes, “Before Stonewall, there was no such thing as coming out or being out. The very idea of being out, it was ludicrous. People talk about being in and out now, there was no out, there was just in.” The bar and cruising spot in the park across the street have become quasi-pilgrimage sites for some in the queer community and will soon include a ranger station and interpretive exhibits.
Hibernia Beach Memorial in San Francisco, CA
The angled corner of a building at a central intersection in the Castro District of San Francisco is a profound site of queer public mourning. Originally a sunbathing and cruising spot known as Hibernia Beach, this stretch of sidewalk has served as a place to gather and display photos of the dead on a fence bordering the building (now a Bank of America) since the 1980s. During the AIDS pandemic, these memorials provided solace and communion in a time when no one else seemed to care. As said by a prominent community member in an interview in 2019:
Spontaneous memorials mounted here have also commemorated exceptional deaths like Matthew Shepard and those of famous allies like Princess Diana. While these memorials have often been effervescent due to their DIY nature, historians have preserved many of them so that future generations and researchers can access them.
Transgender Memorial Garden in St. Louis, Missouri
The first garden devoted to the victims of anti-trans violence in the US stands in the Grove gayborhood of St. Louis. Planted by volunteers and dedicated on Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2015, the garden features a winding path ending at a community circle lined with stones unearthed from the garden’s construction. The reuse of the site’s materials symbolizes the transformative nature of many transgender people’s experiences—from gender assigned at birth to lived gender.
“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
“The memorial is a place of grief and hope,” said Sayer Johnson, the executive director of the community organization responsible for the garden. “It’s a small slice of earth dedicated to our survival and resilience.” Reflecting this hopeful intent, the garden’s entrance sign bears a quote by Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos that reads, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism in Berlin, Germany
A stark memorial in Berlin’s Tiergarten district honors the victims and survivors of Nazism. Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi personnel arrested approximately 100,000 gay men and sent 5,000 to 15,000 to concentration camps. There, they were subjected to torture, castration, and medical experiments, as well as being ostracized by fellow inmates (The regime also targeted lesbian, bisexual, and trans people, although there is little surviving data on how many were imprisoned and convicted.) Discrimination continued long after the war was over: the German state did not life clauses criminalizing same-sex desire among men introduced by the Nazis until 1994.
To address this painful history, Denkmal für die im Nationalsozialismus verfolgten Homosexuellen was unveiled in 2008. The concrete cube features a small window where visitors can watch a video of gay men and lesbians kissing each other. The effect is meant to be hauntingly touching—even in the darkest of places, love and connection prevail.
AIDS Memorial Quilt
Dating back to 1985, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is a living memorial that commemorates more than 100,000 people who have died of complications relating to AIDS. The quilt was conceived in San Francisco by activist Cleve Jones, who wanted to counteract the anonymity of early HIV/AIDS deaths: “It seemed we could all die without anyone really knowing it.” He asked participants in a march honoring Harvey Milk to make placards bearing the name of someone they knew who had died and hung them on the facade of a building, remarking that they looked like a family patchwork quilt that was used to comfort Jones when he was ill.
As the memorial developed, individuals in cities around the country began to send panels dedicated to their loved ones (or, in some cases, themselves) to be incorporated into one massive quilt that collectively exposed private loss and public indifference.
The largest display of the full quilt was in 1996, which covered the entire National Mall in Washington DC. The National AIDS Memorial, who act as caretakers of the quilt, now coordinates more than 1,000 displays of different sections each year. With hundreds of thousands of people making panels and tens of thousands of volunteers helping to display it over the decades, the quilt is considered the largest community arts project in history and powerfully reframed the AIDS pandemic as a national tragedy rather than just a “gay” disease.
Memorial por la Diversidad de Chile in Santiago, Chile
Memorial por la Diversidad de Chile is a memorial located in Santiago’s General Cemetery dedicated to honoring those killed by homophobic violence in Chile. It is the first Chilean monument to acknowledge sexual diversity and other minorities and the second LGBTQ monument in Latin America (after the Plaza de la Diversidad Sexual in Montevideo, Uruguay). The memorial was inaugurated in 2014 and contains the remains of Daniel Zamudio, a young Chilean who was beaten to death in a local park for being gay.
In a context where homosexuality was criminalized as recently as the 1990s, his brutal and sadistic murder led many Chileans to pay attention to LGBTQ civil rights for the first time. Almost sixty plates have been added over the past seven years to commemorate other LGBTQ people killed in homophobic or transphobic attacks.
Visibility and Remembrance
Of course, this collection is just a small sampling of queer memorials and monuments. Many more are dedicated to notable LGBTQ people like Alan Turing and Matthew Shepard, while a number are currently being designed and constructed. Collectively, these sites underline the importance of communal mourning spaces and documenting queer history. Visibility is only one battle in the fight for rights and protections, but as gay author and activist James Baldwin once wrote, “If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
LGBTQ memorials are important not only for their ability to concretize the past and foster social acceptance but also for how they claim and occupy public space in ways that most queer people throughout history could not. While there is still much work to be done, we can never let LGBTQ deaths and persecution fade into yesteryear again.