Greenwich Village is historic in NYC for a number of reasons, but none as monumental as the LGBTQ+ Liberation movement. At a time when being part of that community could get you thrown in jail, Greenwich provided safer spaces for people to be themselves. However, people fought tooth and nail for those spaces. Organizers worked endlessly for rights inside of these buildings. Many still do. Today we honor these sacred locations that have uplifted communities, fought for civil rights, and ensured the LGBTQ+ community will always have a place to call home.
LGBTQ+ Landmarks in NYC
We’ll start with the basics. The Stonewall Inn is considered one of the most important locations in the gay rights right movement. For those who don’t know the story, on June 28th, 1969, a police raid sparked several days of rioting that launched the movement. Police raids on the bar were commonplace, but this night was different. They tried to arrest all 200 patrons of the bar that night, but started to draw a crowd that eventually got violent after someone was struck in the head with a billy club. This outrage transformed into direct action that would propel leaders like Marsha P. Johnson to the forefront of the movement.
Located right across the street from The Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park is a popular place for LGBTQ+ youths to congregate. Some even made it their home. During the riots, people would gather in the parks to organize protests and raise awareness of further action after the dust had settled. The park fell into disrepair, but was made pristine again in the 1980’s. It was designated a landmark, along with the Stonewall Inn, in the year 2015. A monument to Stonewall rests in the park.
Before Stonewall, there were other LGBTQ+ movements in the United States. One of the most prominent organizations was the Mattachine Society, founded in 1950. The Mattachine Society were influenced by Stonewall, though, and moved their main New York Offices to Greenwich in 1972. However, since they were an older organization, and focused primarily on gay men, many in the movement sought groups with more inclusivity. That’s not to say work of the Mattachine Society was unimportant. In fact, they helped countless victims of violence escape dangerous home lives and educated the public about gay rights and sex education.
An already popular meet up spot for the LGBTQ+, this pier became a haven for queer youth who had nowhere else to go. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera would go to the piers and distribute food and clothing to those in need. Bars and restaurants that were here also became popular locations for art and performance for the LGBTQ+. Most of these venues are gone, but their spirit and influence still remain. The pier is still there too, and it is a popular spot for people who take tours about LGBTQ+ history.
Though this bar technically closed down, the building, 183 Bleecker Street, still very much exists. One of the earliest known LGBTQ+ bars in NYC, The Black Rabbit often hosted drag shows as well as more…salacious performances. Cops would regularly raid this bar, but it was also very popular amongst tourists, who simply wanted to see how the LGBTQ+ lived and performed. The bar was so popular that the site was designated a landmark in 2013, forever cementing the history of the community. Other bars were involved in similar activities, like Slide bar just down the road. These venues played an important role in the movement.
Known as the first gay bookstore in the world, the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop opened it’s doors in 1967. The store only sold books by LGBTQ+ authors, and soon became very popular. By the 1970’s activists were meeting there to discuss business and even plan the first Pride Parade! The store lasted decades despite a small inventory, moving locations, and prejudice. It eventually closed its doors in 2009 due to the overwhelming popularity of online booksellers like Amazon. However, just because the store is gone does not mean it’s been forgotten.
Founded in 1983, the LGBT Community Service Center is an inclusive resource that’s still very active in the community today. It’s the largest LGBTQ+ service center on the East Coast and the second largest on Earth. Advocating for the rights of everyone, this center has a variety of resources available like health and wellness, providing therapy for struggling families, advocating for the arts, Alcoholic Anonymous meetings for specific groups, and even employment resources. They really do it all. They also plan city wide events, so checkout their website to see how you can participate.
Only recently landmarked by the city, the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse was the headquarters for the Gay Activists Alliance. Bought by the organization in 1973, the building was used to house struggling LGBTQ+, plan protests, and even have some social events for the community. Sadly, the firehouse was a victim of arson, and the Alliance had to drastically scale back their programs. However, their influence was already felt throughout the city. They inspired young activists to continue the fight for justice and equality, and no fire can take that away from them.
Greenwich Village has always been a place filled with art, activism, and historical importance. It’s necessary to remember the places and people who sacrificed so much to give us what we have today. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights and liberties is far from over, and sometimes enemies of the cause seem too powerful to face. But if we look to the past, we can find inspiration to fight for the future. We can start our own bookstores, open our own clubs, and form our own organizations, just like the heroes of the past did. Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll have done something that will be landmarked in Greenwich Village.
Russell is a writer and comic based in New York City. His plays have been featured at Penn State’s Cultural Conversation’s Festival, The NYC Thespis Festival, and Imaginarium’s Inaugural Theater Festival. Follow him on TikTok and Instagram @pooleparty528