Meet the Mother of The Gazebo, One of the Internet’s First Trans Safe Spaces

When it was active, what did the Gazebo feel like?

It was an all-trans corner bar. It was a place that you could go into 24/7, 365 days a year to meet like-minded people who could sit around and talk about deep and personal trans issues like going through early transition fears and concerns, all the way to just sitting around talking about the movie you saw last night. It was a place where you could just find people who are going to listen and accept. It was a place where we could support each other.

Even though the Gazebo chatroom was available all the time, we had special programming scheduled in the chat room. We had an FTM specific one, and a few others, that would be scheduled in that chat room for those times. But when there wasn’t a specific chat schedule, the chat was still there, and everyone was talking about whatever. Some days, everyone’s hanging out making fish puns, and other times, someone might be having a crisis and everyone’s trying to help them work through it.

How would you describe the trans community that existed around the time of the Gazebo, both off and online?

This was a period when the trans community was still very closeted. We weren’t as known as we are now, for good or ill. Even though we were still seeing 20,000-plus different accounts during a month’s time, which was big numbers for then, it’s nothing like today. Because the community was smaller, it’s going to be tighter knit as a result.

To access the Gazebo, you had to have a home computer and connection to the internet with a modem. Around 1995, having a home computer was still somewhat novel, something that only so many people had. When we started Trans Community Forum — and this changed very shortly after we started — but America Online charged people hourly for use of their servers, so you had to be able to afford that, and there were certainly members of the community that racked up several hundred dollar bills every month contacting AOL. Not only was there a technological divide and a financial divide, but at the time, AOL was only available in six or seven different countries, so it was such a small slice of the community. Whereas the trans community today, looking at Facebook, Twitter, Discord, most trans people have some access to the web. It’s helped to rebuild that history and contextualize that history, and made it possible to connect beyond borders with our community.

How long did the Gazebo hang around?

We shut down around 1999. We were originally housed at the Gay and Lesbian Community Forum, which had changed their name to OnQ, and America Online had decided to go in a slightly different direction. They created a partnership with Planet Out, which was brand new at that point, which was also an LGBT community space. As a result, our resources were drastically cut back. contacted OnQ, there was a merger between OnQ and, and our space was cut back. It wasn’t that the community didn’t want to be there, it was that we were facing a strong technological barrier with what was available.


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