Arts·Queeries

Queer love in the making: This massive interactive map holds a whole world of heartfelt moments

Nearly 20,000 stories from across the globe make up Montreal designer Lucas LaRochelle's Queering the Map.

Nearly 20,000 stories from across the globe make up Lucas LaRochelle's Queering the Map

(Courtesy of Queering The Map )

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens.

One evening, Lucas LaRochelle was biking home from school in Montreal when they passed a tree in Parc Jeanne-Mance. A tree that had been the exact spot they'd met someone three years earlier — someone they'd eventually fall in love with.

"Passing by this tree, I was transported back to the impressions of our first encounter — an isolated moment of queer love in the making," LaRochelle explains. "I felt connected not only to that partner or that tree, but to the feeling of queerness that seemed to have lingered at that spot despite the passage of time."

As LaRochelle continued the bike ride, they began to plot out other points of personal significance. The mysterious red shipping container in the woods by their childhood home, where LaRochelle and their first love would meet "with ritualistic earnestness" to discuss their feelings for each other. The baseball field in Parc Laurier where a friend gifted LaRochelle her old pink slip, which "I subsequently put on and danced around in, feeling beautiful and validated in my genderqueerness," LaRochelle recalls.

These recollections continued to the point where LaRochelle decided to create a way to map these moments and make them visible and legible outside of their own individual experience. "I wanted to better understand how other people experience and do 'queer,'" LaRochelle says.

(Courtesy of Queering The Map)

"I wanted to expand the feeling of connectedness that I had biking by that tree to as many places as possible, to co-create an interlocking web of queer feeling and memory."

And thus, a map was born — a map that has grown to make the experiences of queer people all over the world visible and legible. Because Rochelle, a multidisciplinary designer and researcher, turned that bike ride into an extraordinary mission: Queering the Map.

Queering the Map is an interactive map that allows anyone to add a pin anywhere on Earth and use it to describe a queer experience. Its intent, essentially, is to make us explore the plurality of queer experience.

"The project comes out of the desire to collectively document queer spaces that are rendered as such through the presence — however ephemeral — and activity of queer people," LaRochelle says. "It operates from the perspective that queer existence is resistance, and aims to merge subjective experience into a collective voice. The aim of the project is to make legible memories, histories and moments of queerness that would otherwise disappear."

(Courtesy of Queering The Map)

When LaRochelle began the project just over a year ago, it consisted of 15 pins across Montreal that each represented their own memories.

"Hungry to learn more about how other people feel and do 'queer,' I worked to make the site interactive in hopes that even a few people would be interested in participating," LaRochelle explains.

I felt connected not only to that partner or that tree, but to the feeling of queerness that seemed to have lingered...I wanted to expand the feeling of connectedness that I had biking by that tree to as many places as possible, to co-create an interlocking web of queer feeling and memory.- Lucas LaRochelle, Queering the Map creator

Over the course of the first six months, pins slowly started to show up, largely from within LaRochelle's own immediate community in Montreal. But then all of a sudden, the pins started to spread — first in Toronto, then in Vancouver, then in Australia and then throughout the United States.

"I would check the site every day and sit in awe at the intensity of what was shared, recounting the stories I read to anyone who would listen," LaRochelle says.

Now, if you head to Sydney, Nova Scotia on the map, you'll find a pin that reads: "I rolled down the window and screamed 'I'm gay' at the top of my lungs alone in the car, because I wasn't ready to say it to anyone else." In Prince George, B.C., there's a pin announcing: "I came out to my my mom for the first time, and it was a positive and relieving experience." Go south to Fort Worth, Texas, and you'll find: "Coming out to my students was excruciatingly nerve-wracking. But so, so important."

(Courtesy of Queering The Map )

By this past February, Queering the Map had gone viral, exploding from 600 pins to 6,500 in a matter of three days. And, of course, the trolls came out to play. Specifically, Trump supporters.

"I woke up to a slew of emails alerting me to the fact that Queering the Map had been spammed with pop-ups reading: 'Make America Great Again, Donald Trump Best President' that would multiply when you clicked on an existing point," LaRochelle says.

LaRochelle was forced to take the site down and a call for support was issued on the URL, requesting that anyone who may know how to deal with the problem reach out.

"I received an overwhelming amount of response, and a group of queer coders came together through the digital woodworks to save the project. They worked not only to remove the malicious code added to the site, but to greatly increase the sites security overall to protect it from future attacks. The fact that the site was able to go back online is a testament to the power of queer community coming together, and would not have been possible without their support. What began as a community-generated project on the front end has now become a community-generated project through and through."

Queering the Map now hosts 19,500 stories from across the world, and has a moderator panel that is collaboratively reviewed to ensure that no hate, spam or unsafe content make it through. LaRochelle hopes that it continues to grow, ultimately becoming "a sustainable living archive of queer experience."

(Courtesy of Queering The Map)

"The response to the project has made clear the value of making space for queer people to share their stories, and I intend to continue to work to develop Queering the Map into a resource for the participatory documentation of our collective history. I would also love to translate Queering the Map into a book, as I think it would be a beautiful way of showcasing what has been shared to the map so far."

Sign us up for a pre-order, Lucas.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and playing integral roles in the launch and production of series The Filmmakers and Canada's a Drag. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also a stand-up comedian, the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.