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First-ever LGBTQ historical marker placed in WNY; honors Robert Uplinger

A blue and yellow historical marker is pictured that reads "Bob Uplinger's Arrest -...- Near this location on August 7,1981 Bob Uplinger (1951-1988) was arrested by an undercover police officer posing as a gay man, and charged and convicted with loitering for the purpose of engaging in deviate sexual activity. After consensual sex between same-sex partners became legal in New York State in 1980, police began using loitering and solicitation laws to persecute LGBTQ people. In 1983, represented by Buffalo attorney William H. Gardner, Uplinger won dismissal of his conviction when the NYS Court of Appeals declared this application of the loitering law unconstitutional. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the Erie County District Attorney and the decision was upheld. This effectively struck down the last New York State law used to arrest gay people for consensual sex between adults, laying the groundwork for national legislation and securing future freedoms. Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project."
Emyle Watkins
The first-ever LGBTQ historical marker was placed in Buffalo in August.

This story originally aired August 9, 2021.

On Saturday, Western New Yorkers gathered to unveil and celebrate the first-ever LGBTQ historical marker in the region, which was placed by the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project.

40 years ago on August 7, 1981, a young educator named Robert Uplinger was arrested simply for asking a man if he’d like to come back to his apartment with him. At the time, many gay men were targeted by the police and arrested under a New York State anti-loitering law, and the man Uplinger had invited was actually an undercover police officer.

Uplinger's case is honored in the new marker, which is located at the site he was arrested at – North Street and Irving Place. The marker notes that Uplinger’s case ultimately struck down the law that was used to arrest him. Saturday’s ceremony brought together many who knew Uplinger, but also many who were impacted by Uplinger’s advocacy. Uplinger passed away at age 35 in 1988 due to an aids-related illness.

Mitch Nowakowski serves on the Buffalo Common Council and is Buffalo’s first openly gay elected official. He reflected the importance of honoring history.

“History is uncomfortable, because a lot of bad things happened. But we have to look at it from a historical lens, and to make sure that those stories are accurately told, because if they're not accurately told, we dilute the pain, we dilute the story, and we dilute the triumphs of those folks that have brought us here today.

Uplinger’s legacy also lives on in what is now Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York, an organization which he helped found.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.