A trip to New York City is often the highlight of many people’s travel lives. In fact, for most people, NYC is one of the destinations at the top of the bucket list. The city is absolutely incredible and so full of life and energy. It really is the city that does not sleep and when you’re there, it feels as though you are standing in the center of the world. Home to many world-class museums, a plethora of restaurants and cultures, iconic landmarks and attractions, and the best theater productions around, NYC has a lot to offer the traveler. It’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world so all of that comes at a price. But the experience you have when you’re there is unlike anything else you will ever experience. I mean, the last time I was there I dressed up like a robot and marched in a Halloween parade that was viewed by thousands. You never know what’s going to happen! But aside from all the excitement, there is also a whole lot of history to dive into. To me, some of the most fascinating history NYC has to offer is its LGBT history. So let’s dive right into it and take an abridged tour of NYC LGBT Landmarks.
LGBT History in NYC
You cannot talk about LGBT history without talking about New York City. The streets of NYC harbor hundreds of years of LGBT history and lead to some intriguing NYC LGBT landmarks. Throughout the city you can find buildings, entire streets, parks, and even artwork that are a testament to the presence of LGBT people and their impacts on the world. The famous Stonewall Riots took place in NYC and served as the catalyst for the modern gay rights movement. These and many other events in NYC led to the galvanization of the LGBT community towards political activism to demand equality under the law. New York City is a major part of the reason LGBT activism went from a loosely organized network of grassroots groups to the impactful social and political force of today.
New York City is the birthplace of the real struggle for LGBT Civil Rights. NYC’s LGBT Landmarks serve as hallowed ground of sorts for this struggle and a source of inspiration for all LGBT people. The city is, of course, full of energy with quite a sizable population of LGBT people. Generally accepting of all walks life, NYC is welcoming to LGBT people which is why so many call it home. It’s been 50 years since those riots and we’ve come quite a long way. In fact, 2019 World Pride will be hosted in NYC this year to commemorate those important events. The event will be wild, a bit insane, and wonderful!
While NYC is often credited with being the birthplace of the gay rights movement, Berlin is arguably the true birthplace of the gay rights movement in the 20th Century. Check out my Gay Guide to Berlin to learn more!
NYC Historic Sites Project
There is nothing wrong with celebrating Pride in all of its wild glory, but if you’re keen on exploring more gay history through NYC LGBT landmarks, then you should check out the NYC Historic Sites Project. This work in progress is the first real initiative to document LGBT historic and cultural sites in NYC. The organization hopes to illustrate the richness of the city’s LGBT history and the influence of LGBT people on America. I used this map to discover as many NYC LGBT landmarks as time would allow while I was in the city. It’s a super helpful resource and you’ll be surprised by the history that’s there.
However, if you want to take a quick abridged NYC LGBT Landmark tour then these landmarks are the ones you shouldn’t miss. I’ve presented them in what I consider the best order for a walking tour so they aren’t in chronological order.
1) NYC LGBT Landmark: Julius’
Julius’ is actually the oldest bar in the Village and also the oldest gay bar in the entire city. This NYC LGBT landmark was the site of a “sip-in” in 1966. At the time the New York State Liquor Authority prohibited bars and restaurants from serving homosexuals alcohol. Therefore, members of the Mattachine Society, one of the first gay-rights groups in the US, identified themselves as homosexuals before ordering drinks at the bar. Of course, the bartender was forced to deny them service which eventually led to an investigation by the chairman of the Human Rights’ Commission into discrimination against homosexuals.
Address: 151 W 10th Street
2) NYC LGBT Landmark: Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop
You won’t find crowds gathering around this bookstore as it is one of the lesser know LGBT landmarks in NYC but this bookstore was the first of its kind totally devoted to gay and lesbian authors. Founded in 1967 by Craig Rodwell, the bookstore was initially located on Mercer Street but was moved to Christopher Street in 1973. He wanted to influence the public’s perspective of the LGBT Community through literature. The bookstore closed in 2009 due to the Recession.
Address: 15 Christopher Street
3) NYC LGBT Landmark: Stonewall Inn
When you think of LGBT landmarks in New York City, I bet the first thing that comes to mind is The Stone Wall Inn. On June 28, 1969, a raid was carried out by the New York City police department at Stone Wall Inn. This raid led 6 days of riots and organized action and would catalyze LGBT people throughout the country to unite to seek equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only is The Stonewall Inn a NYC LGBT landmark, it’s the first LGBT site in the country to be listed on the National Registry of Historic Places (1999), and named a National Historic Landmark (2000). It also received additional state and federal recognition in 2015 and 2016.
Address: 53 Christopher Street
4) NYC LGBT Landmark: Christopher Park
Located just across the street from The Stonewall Inn, this NYC LGBT landmark consists of a small quiet park surrounded by a 19th Century wrought-iron fence. Inside the park you’ll find a sculpture by George Segal called “Gay Liberation” that depicts same-sex couple acting pretty normal. That’s the whole point! The park was named a National Monument (along with The Stonewall Inn) by President Obama in 2016.
Address: 38-64 Christopher Street
5) NYC LGBT Landmarks: Location of the Start of the First Pride March
What we now consider the first Pride March to ever take place in the world occurred in NYC and was known then as the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. For this NYC LGBT landmark, you really just need to walk down the street and imagine what it was like for our LGBT forebearers felt as they marched down the very same street standing up for their Rights. On June 28, 1970 a group marched from Washington Place up Sixth Avenue to Central Park where a “Gay-In” was held in the Sheep Meadow. It was led by Craig Rodwell, owner of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, and the march attracted thousands of participants. It was an incredibly brave action for the time and is the reason Pride parades are held all across the world today.
Address: Washington Place, West of Sixth Avenue
Bonus NYC LGBT Landmarks
There are so many LGBT landmarks in New York City that I could probably write an entire guide book about them all. I can’t possible include every place of historic significance to the LGBT Community. But I do want to make sure you know about three more sites that are important to our history.
Originally located in the Upper West Side, the Lesbian Herstory Archives was founded in 1974. It is currently located in Brooklyn’s Park Slope and has one of the world’s largest collections of records by and about lesbians. It also serves as a museum and community center and is dedicated to preserving lesbian history. The main goal is to provide access to historic documents about lesbian lives for future generations.
Address: 484 14th St, Brooklyn NY
Founded in 1983, the New York City LGBT Center is a vital resource for the LGBT community and provides HIV/AIDS services, arts, cultural programs, and family support groups. It also has a nice cafe inside and is a great place to get some free condoms! The staff is super friendly too!
Address: 208 W 13th Street
3) Keith Haring Bathroom
Inside the LGBT Center of New York City, you’ll find a work of contemporary art worth millions and it’s free to see. In May 19189, Keith Haring (a queer artist) painted his NSFW mural called Once Upon a Time inside a bathroom at the LGBT Center as part of an art exhibition called The Center Show. The artwork is provocative and surrounds the viewer with his signature black-on-white line drawings of penises, fluids, babies, groping figures, and sexual acts. It’s a homage to the days when men would meet in secret in bathroom to have sex because it was the only place they could meet. The artwork has been fully restored and, while there are no toilets in the room anymore, you can walk inside to see the artwork. Haring’s work has sold for as much as $2.5 million so this is possibly the most valuable bathroom in America. Just stop by during the Center’s business hours to see it for free.
Address: Inside the LGBT Center
Check out some of my gay guides to some great cities!
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