Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender New York City History

Take a tour around New York City to visit historical sites important to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.

Stonewall Inn, The LGBT Community Center, GLAAD, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, Alice Austen House, Judson Memorial Church

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender New York City History by Various

You’ll learn about LGBT rights activists, organizations and pivotal moments in LGBT history.

The Sip-In at Julius’: An Early Salvo for LGBT Rights

Three years and two months before the Stonewall Rebellion, three young men set out to challenge a NYS Liquor Authority regulation prohibiting the sale of alcohol to homosexuals since they would be considered disorderly. They chose Julius’ Bar in Greenwich Village.

This publicized action was one of the earliest pre-Stonewall public actions for LGBT rights as well as a big step forward in the eventual development of legitimate LGBT bars in NYC. The Sip-In empowered others in the gay community to challenge such discriminatory measures.

Announcing to the bartender that they were homosexual, they were denied service, thus fulfilling their mission. They subsequently contacted the New York City Human Rights Commission and forced the Liquor Authority to stop enforcing the regulation. 

Three years later Stonewall happened which catalyzed increased demand for LGBT civil rights.

Prohibition

Julius’ was a popular speakeasy during the prohibition. It was visited by jazz legends and enthusiasts due to it location in the West Village. Over the years, Julius’ started to attract gay clientele and continues to be one of the oldest gay bars in New York City.

New York Mattachine Society: Dick Leitsch

The New York Chapter of the Mattachine Society is one of the country’s earliest gay rights organizations. Dick Leitsch, pictured here, was the president of this chapter and one of the three men involved in the Sip-In.

Members were inspired by sit-ins from the civil rights movement. Mattachine Thursday is a monthly party that meets at Julius’ to honor Dick and the brave individuals of the Mattachine Society.

"Little did we know that the Sip In would have such an impact of the civil rights for the LGBT community and the monthly party celebrating the Mattachine Society is the frosting on the cake." - Dick Leitsch

Julius’ Unofficial Historian: Tom Bernardin

Here sits Tom Bernardin, the unofficial historian of Julius’. Tom, along with the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, played an important role in having Julius’ listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Sip-In.

"Today Julius' serves as a touchstone to older members of the gay community and as an inspiration for the younger LGBT community." - Tom Bernardin. 

Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park, Greenwich Village

The original Stonewall Inn (51-53 Christopher Street), nearby Christopher Park, and the surrounding streets were the site of the Stonewall Uprising, one of the most significant events associated with LGBT history in New York City and the nation.

On the early morning of June 28, a routine police raid on this gay bar resulted in active resistance by the diverse LGBT patrons, local residents, and visitors with unprecedented cries for “gay pride” and “gay power” culminating on July 3. 

The events are seen as the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement.

Entrance to Stonewall in 1969

The Stonewall Inn, like many other gay bars in the 1960s, was run by the mafia as a private club.  Patrons had to knock at this entrance and were checked by a doorman looking through a peephole.  

During the first night of the uprising, the crowd outside became increasingly agitated forcing police officers back into the bar where they locked this entrance door in order to keep the angry crowd out. 

Christopher Park

After the initial raid, demonstrations and conflicts with law enforcement continued outside the bar, in Christopher Park, and along the neighborhood streets. At its peak, the crowds included several thousand people with many gathering in the park.

In 1992, the George Segal-designed work, Gay Liberation, was installed in Christopher Park to recognize Stonewall.  In June 2016, President Obama designated the Stonewall National Monument, which includes the park.

Christopher Street Looking East Towards Sixth Avenue

The events at Stonewall have also inspired the LGBT pride movement. On July 27, 1969, several weeks after the events at Stonewall, a group of activists staged the first gay and lesbian march, proceeding from Washington Square Park to the Stonewall, which had already closed, on Christopher Street.

Christopher Street Looking East Towards Sixth Avenue by Various

The first anniversary of the rebellion was not commemorated in June 28, 1970 as Christopher Street Liberation Day; the main event was a march up Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village to Central Park, one of the first ever Gay Pride Parades.

The celebration has since evolved into the internationally-recognized LGBT Pride Month. 

S.T.A.R

Soon after the 1969 Stonewall uprising, LGBT rights activists and transgender women of color Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) and Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) founded S.T.A.R. ("Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries").

S.T.A.R by Various

S.T.A.R. helped homeless LGBT youth, particularly gender non-conforming individuals and transgender women of color.  S.T.A.R. had its first permanent home in a now-demolished East Village tenement at 213 East 2nd Street.

Marsha P. Johnson at the First Christopher Street Liberation Day March, 1970 (1970-06-28) by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

As long-time activists, Rivera and Johnson fought for important visibility and awareness around issues affecting those who identified as transgender or gender queer.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

Founded in 1983, The LGBT Community Center (The Center) is the heart and home of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) New York City. The Center empowers people to lead healthy, successful lives while celebrating diversity and advocating for justice and opportunity.

Today The Center welcomes more than 300,000 visitors every year and provides social, arts and service-based programming to support the vibrant NYC LGBT community.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center by Travis MarkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

The Center’s Physical Home on W 13 Street

A dream born in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall uprising was fulfilled when The Center took title to 208 W 13 Street in December 1984. The December 1983 New York Times article about the sale, by David Dunlap, featured the headline “Sale of Site to Homosexuals Planned.”

A Space for LGBT Groups to Gather

Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) began meeting at 208 W 13 St even before The Center’s founding, and for years ran a drop-in space that is now the cyber center. Even today, SAGE members continue to visit the drop-in space on The Center’s second floor. 

Edie Windsor Wins Marriage Equality Supreme Court Case

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor, declaring Section 3 of the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. Windsor, a founding Center Member, held her victory press conference in The Center’s lobby, where there is now a café.

Programs for the Trans and Gender Nonconforming Community

In 1989, The Center launched its Gender Identity Project, which provides programming for the transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) communities. 

Cyber center and front desk at The Center by Travis MarkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center

The project has evolved over time to include a range of transgender-driven support, advocacy, education and economic stability initiatives.

The Kaplan Assembly Hall, Room 101

Part of The Center’s purpose is to provide a space where community members can meet and organize around issues facing the LGBT community. 

The Kaplan Assembly Hall has served as a hub for the LGBT community since The Center’s founding, hosting dances, activist gatherings, symposia, meetings, town halls, serving as a polling place and more. 

Over 12,000 activities happen at The Center each year, many of them in this room.  

A Safe Space for Dances and Disco Balls

Post Stonewall, it was vitally important to the LGBT community to have a safe space for social gatherings. The disco balls in Room 101 reflected that dream at many dances. 

The importance of safe spaces remains today, and is symbolized by the single disco ball installed post-renovation in 2015. 

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1989’s Center Show Marks the 20th Anniversary of Stonewall

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, The Center Show, a collection of art installations by 50 artists, opened on June 1, 1989. Work by Keith Haring, Nancy Spero and George Whitman (“Adam & Eve” pictured here) was featured and remains on display.

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ACT UP Founded at The Center

Community members gathered in Room 101 in March 1987 to hear playwright and author Larry Kramer speak about addressing the AIDS crisis. Kramer spurred the crowd to act and organize, and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was born. 

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Center Youth Programming and Alternative Prom

Since 1989, The Center has provided programs for LGBTQ young people. Some of the most popular events were dances, like the 1996 alternative prom.  Over 1,000 young people a year access leadership programming, internships, support, counseling and substance use treatment.

GLAAD – Accelerate Acceptance & End Hate

GLAAD, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights organization, was founded in New York City in 1985. GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance.

As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love.

GLAAD Logo

In 1985, GLAAD organized a protest in response to The New York Post's grossly defamatory and sensationalized HIV/AIDS coverage. This pivotal moment in LGBTQ rights history underlined the importance of positively portraying and representing LGBTQ people in the media.

Vito Russo – Protest

During the 1980s, the HIV and AIDS crisis was predominantly affecting members of the LGBTQ community. Defamatory reporting on HIV and AIDS in the media was dangerous to the well-being of the LGBTQ community, as it perpetuated dehumanizing, inaccurate information.

Vito Russo – First GLAAD Media Awards

Vito Russo, a co-founder of GLAAD, is known for analyzing the way gay and lesbian individuals had been depicted in early cinema and film. Russo wanted to ensure that future depictions of LGBTQ people in the media would be fair.

Laverne Cox – GLAAD Media Awards Today

The GLAAD Media Awards recognize and honor media for their accurate and inclusive representations of the LGBTQ community and the issues that affect their lives. Nominees for the  28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards will be announced in January, 2017.

Early ACT UP Demonstrations in the Financial District

The Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a grassroots political group, was formed in Manhattan in 1987 in response to government’s lack of action and the alarming rate of infections and deaths affecting the LGBT community.

Its primary goal was to bring attention to the AIDS crisis through education and nonviolent direct actions. Its early demonstrations in the Financial District were to demand greater access to experimental AIDS drugs and call attention to the high price of AIDS medication.

First ACT UP Demonstration in 1987

Government inaction and complacency about the AIDS crisis prompted activist Larry Kramer to give an impassioned speech in March 1987 at what is now known as the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village. 

Igonorance=Fear. Silence=Death by Keith HaringOriginal Source: Nakamura Keith Haring Collection

As a result, ACT UP was formed a few days later. “Silence = Death” became its motto.

A few weeks later its first direct action took place at Wall Street and Broadway in the Financial District where 250 demonstrators gathered to protest the high cost and lack of availability of AIDS drugs.

ACT UP Stock Exchange Demonstration 1989

On September 14, 1989, ACT UP led a noon rally of 350 people in front of the New York Stock Exchange, targeting Burroughs Wellcome – the company that manufactured the high-price of AZT (the only approved AIDS drug at the time) and other companies that it felt were profiteering from the AIDS epidemic.

Earlier in the day, seven ACT UP members infiltrated the Stock Exchange disrupting the opening bell for the first time in history.

As a result of these demonstrations, which received national media attention, Burroughs Wellcome lowered the price of AZT four days later.

ACT UP Original Member: Andy Velez

Andy Velez, pictured here, at the ACT UP 10th Anniversary Wall Street demonstration in March 1997. Andy recalled the feeling of the first demonstration: “People were angry and scared. Some because they had been in protests, and some had not.

It was a brand new learning experience and there were mixed feelings: We can do this, We can’t do that? Can we do that?... There were dozens of men in a straight line, holding posters and chanting. It was thrilling”.

Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Central Park, Manhattan

Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, completed between 1859-1864, contains one of the largest fountains in New York City. 

The Angel of the Waters sculpture atop the fountain was the masterpiece of Emma Stebbins (1815-1882) who designed the sculpture in the 1860s while living in Rome with her lover Charlotte Cushman, the leading start of the American and British stages.

The couple was part of a circle of “female jolly bachelors” who were among the first generation of women to forge a career in the arts and to form same-sex relationships.

Angel of the Waters Sculpture

Stebbins’ sculptural group - the earliest public artwork by a woman in New York City - depicts the biblical “Angel of Bethesda” resting on a base surrounded by four cherubs representing “health,” “purity,” “peace,” and “temperance.”

Bethesda Fountain Base

The theme, taken from the Gospel of John, was considered a particularly appropriate symbol of the healthful benefits provided by the Croton Aqueduct water then stored in Central Park reservoirs, which first brought fresh water to New York City in 1842.

Bethesda Terrace Arcade

The subterranean arcade is one of the main architectural features of Central Park and connects visitors to the terrace.  

The entire complex is one of the most visited in the park and the location of many films including Angels in America, based on the play of the same name by Tony Kushner.

Bethesda Fountain

Around 1900, the Staten Island photographer Alice Austen took this image of Stebbins’s Bethesda Fountain. Like Stebbins, Austen was working in a craft where most of the contemporary practitioners were men.

Both women also prescribed to leading lives outside of predominantly-accepted heterosexual domestic partnerships.

‘Clear Comfort’: Alice Austen’s Home and Studio

The Alice Austen House is the only museum devoted to a woman photographer in the United States,  and one of very few preserved artist’s homes and studios in New York City. 

Alice Austen, born in 1866, was a trailblazer – a rebel who broke away from the constraints of her Victorian environment and forged an independent life that pushed boundaries of acceptable female behavior and social rules.

[Clear Comfort front porch - in bloom] by Alice AustenAlice Austen House

Her family’s home, Clear Comfort, now the museum, shaped Alice Austen’s experiences, served as her first studio space and darkroom, and opened up to her a world of subjects beyond her comfortable, upper-middle class suburban existence.

The House and Grounds

Alice Austen was raised in an unconventional Victorian home where she was encouraged to explore her own interests rather than adhere to traditional Victorian women’s roles of marriage and motherhood. 

Purchased by Alice’s Grandfather in 1844, the home’s prominent waterfront site on the north shore of Staten Island influenced Alice Austen’s work, allowing her to witness many historical events from her front lawn. 

Alice’s Home

Born Elizabeth Alice Munn in 1866, Alice Austen’s paternal surname was dropped after her father abandoned the family shortly after her birth. Alice’s mother moved into her parents home, known as Clear Comfort, when Alice was a young child.

[Alice & Gertrude in their later Years] (1944-09) by Richard O. Cannon, M.D.Alice Austen House

Alice Austen would spend seventy-eight years of her life here. Alice met her life partner, Gertrude Tate, in 1899. 

The couple formed a loving and devoted relationship, built a life together, and supported one another for more than fifty years, living together at Clear Comfort for thirty years. (Alice and Gertrude photographed at Clear Comfort in 1944 by Richard O. Cannon.).

New York Harbor View

Alice Austen made significant contributions through her life and photographs to New York City and United States history. 

Alice Austen (1951) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

From Clear Comfort’s lawn, Austen witnessed many inspirational historic events, such as the construction of the Statue of Liberty, the last voyage of the Lusitania, and the massive waves of immigrants arriving in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century.

Exhibit Cover by Alice Austen. Collection of Staten Island Historic SocietyAlice Austen House

The Darned Club

The Darned Club strikes a pose of girlish friendship on the Austen House's lawn, which overlooks the entrance to the New York Harbor.

Darned ClubAlice Austen House

Alice (left) and her three friends, Trudy Eccleston, Julia Marsh, and Sue Ripley, were called “The Darned Club” by a group of young men in the neighborhood, because the women’s social circle excluded men. (Alice’s photo of “The Darned Club” taken on October 29, 1891 at 3PM).

The Gardens

Both in the subjects that she photographed and the way she lived her life, Alice Austen was a ‘New Woman’ who questioned gender roles and challenged the conventions of Victorian society. Many of her early photographs were taken in the gardens of Clear Comfort.

[Clear Comfort porch] (1885-06) by Alice AustenAlice Austen House

Alice used her surroundings as a backdrop to pose herself and her friends, staging her subjects, settings, and props to create a commentary on gender roles and social expectations for women of her era.

The Gardens

"We look so funny with those mustaches on, I can hardly tell which is which," Alice Austen recalled when she saw this photograph in 1951. "We did it just for fun," she commented, "maybe we were better looking men than women." 

Austen, herself, phony cigarette in hand, stands to the left. (Alice Austen, Julia Martin, Julia Bredt, and Self Dressed up as Men, taken on October 15, 1891 at 4:40 p.m.).

The Parlor: Alice Austen’s Home and Studio

The Alice Austen House holds a collection of original Alice Austen photographs and artifacts, including: glass plate negatives, photographic prints, and photo albums compiled by Alice Austen.

The 1890s formal parlor and dining room have been recreated with both original objects belonging to the Austen family and period-pieces carefully selected based on the detailed photos taken by Alice Austen of each room in the house.

Alice and Gertrude, Pickard’s Penny Photo, ca. 1905.

The most apt description of Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate’s relationship is “Boston Marriage.” In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the term was used to describe two single women living together, independent of men.

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“Boston marriages” allowed independent, intellectually-driven women to work outside the home and have amorous and/or domestic relationships with other women.

Alice’s Camera

Alice Austen was handed her first camera at age eleven. She learned the technical aspects of glass plate photography and set up a darkroom at Clear Comfort in a hallway closet. 

Alice Austen (1951-07) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

She was incredibly prolific, making about 8,000 photographs during her lifetime - thousands of her original glass plates and prints are located in the collection of Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island.

Alice Austen (1951-07) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

With her compact field camera, Austen frequently documented her own social circle. In some of these photographs, Austen mocked conventions of Victorian life by photographing herself and her friends cross-dressing and posing with each other in outlandish scenarios.

Alice Austen’s Self-Portrait

Alice Austen went to great lengths to capture her subjects. She transported up to fifty pounds of photography equipment, frequently travelling into Manhattan on her own to document the street life and working immigrants of New York City.

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Here, Alice Austen prepares to mount her bicycle. As an early advocate for women cyclists, she promoted bicycling as a tool to give women greater freedom through mobility. (Alice Austen’s self-portrait with her bicycle, taken in 1897.).

Violet Ward and Friend (circa. 1892) by Alice AustenAlice Austen House

Violet Ward and Friend

In this photograph, Alice Austen shows Violet Ward and friend lounging outside of Clear Comfort in an intimate pose. These women were a part of Alice Austen’s female-centered world. In 1896, Violet Ward wrote and published a book entitled Bicycling for Ladies.

Alice Austen’s photographs were used as the reference for the book’s illustrations. (Alice Austen’s photograph of Violet Ward and friend, taken in 1892.).

Judson Memorial Church Meeting Room (Sanctuary)

Founded in 1890, Judson Memorial Church (1892, McKim, Mead & White) is an open-and-affirming house of worship affiliated with United Church of Christ, American Baptist Church, and Alliance of Baptists.

In the 1960s, the Sanctuary was renamed to “Meeting Room” with a purposeful intent to evoke the Quaker principle of “gathering,” with its cross and pews intentionally removed to create an open and creative space that is welcoming of people from all faiths and walks of life.

The church continues to maintain close partnerships with many LGBTQ social justice organizations, including: New Alternatives, Ali Forney Center, the Third Wave Fund, GMAD, Queer Nation, Gays Against Guns, and many others.

In the 1960s-70s, the church was the site for lesbian and gay political gatherings. With the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s, Judson became one of New York’s first compassionate churches.

Baptisery & Running Water for the Community

Designed by Herbert Adams, Judson’s baptisery was a 19th century marvel powered by indoor plumbing. Able to provide running water, Judson also featured a public fountain in its northeast corner to provide the community with a source of drinking water.

Lee Hancock

Throughout the 1960s-‘80s, Judson participated actively in the local and national movements for civil rights, peace, women’s rights, and gay rights.

During the 1980s, when Lee Hancock was associate minister (1980-85), Judson ran several health-care-related programs, and more notably, was one of the few churches to acknowledge the AIDS crisis, operating a support group for those with HIV-AIDS and their caregivers, and providing funerals for those who died of AIDS when other churches were turning them away.

The Loft: Judson Arts Wednesdays

Between 1957 and 1992 the church had a particularly progressive activist congregation and Judson became home to avant-garde arts.

In the 1950s-60s, it ran an Art Gallery at which several now-famous artists (Claes Oldenburg, Allen Kaprow, Yoko Ono etc.) found a place that would show their unconventional works. 

The Judson Loft became a home to Judson Poets' Theater, one of the earliest of the off-off-Broadway theater movements, and currently serves as the epicenter of Judson’s art programs. 

Judson also housed the Judson Dance Theater collective now recognized as the creators of post-modern dance.Judson continues to work extensively with queer artists, devoting much of their arts programming to LGBTQ art.

Judson Arts Wednesday (JAW) brings the community together weekly with free meals combined with avant-garde performances.

Operation New Broom

In 1966, a Greenwich Village protest arose against Mayor Lindsay administration’s “Operation New Broom” attempt to “clean up” the nearby Washington Square area by raiding gay bars, restaurants, and bookstores, and through entrapment of gay men.

Senior police officials attended a community meeting at Judson on March 31, 1966, which was attended by a number of members of the Mattachine Society, an early gay rights organization.

A confrontation between the police and activists created negative publicity, forcing the mayor to issue an order ending entrapment.

Archway Design Echoes Washington Square Park Arch

Judson’s construction was in tandem with that of the Washington Square Park Arch, with both projects led by the notable architect Stanford White. Interestingly, the Meeting Room’s archway design pattern echoes that of the archway pattern under the Arch.

Stained-Glass Windows / Modern-Day Prophets

Designed by stained-glass master John LaFarge between 1892 and 1910, Judson houses the country’s largest collection of LaFarge windows in a single location. 

It is believed LaFarge intentionally featured influential individuals from his life alongside biblical prophets in order to convey his belief in modern-day prophets. 

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