April 11, 2016

Beyond Stonewall: Five More New York LGBT History Sites

  • By: Katherine Flynn
New York's LGBT Center

photo by: Travis Mark

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center is housed in an 1844 school building.

The Stonewall Riots happened 47 years ago this June, and in that time, countless steps have been made toward LGBT equality in the United States. Today, Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn and neighboring Christopher Park remain a kind of mecca for those hoping to pay homage to an important turning point in LGBT history, and learn more about the lasting impact of the movement.

In terms of that movement's significant historic sites, however, the Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park are just the beginning. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is in the process of compiling a comprehensive online map of places where historic events important to the LGBT rights movement occurred, and places where that history is still unfolding today. This volunteer undertaking by a passionate group of preservationists, historians and surveyors aims to "make a largely invisible history visible."

That project isn't quite finished yet, but in the meantime, open up your favorite map app and plot your own course through this list of six must-visit New York LGBT history sites.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, Manhattan

In 1983, the City of New York approved the sale of the former Food and Maritime Trades High School, built in 1844 and located at 208 West 13th Street, to a nascent organization that would become the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. The Center has been providing services, support, arts and cultural events, and a strong sense of community to New York’s LGBT population ever since.

Throughout its history, the Center has served as the interim home of the Harvey Milk High School for gay and lesbian youth, fostered the start of ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980's, and hosted prominent cultural figures like writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde and writer and public speaker Fran Lebowitz. An estimated 6,000 visitors a week take advantage of its services today.

In early 2015, the Center completed a $9.2 million renovation featuring a new lobby, updated auditoriums, and a revamped library and archives. It continues to expand its initiatives—some of its newest include a program targeting substance abuse among LGBT youth and an economic empowerment program for women.

Exterior of the New York Stock Exchange, Wall Street

photo by: George Rex/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The New York Stock Exchange was the site of ACT UP demonstrations during the 1980's and '90s.

New York Stock Exchange, Site of 1989 ACT UP Demonstration, Wall Street

After its formation in 1987, ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) began holding demonstrations on Wall Street to protest the price-gouging of HIV/AIDS drugs by pharmaceutical companies. On September 14, 1989, seven ACT UP members infiltrated the New York Stock Exchange and chained themselves to the VIP balcony to protest the high price of the only approved AIDS drug at that time, AZT.

In March of 1997, on the 10th anniversary of ACT UP, hundreds once again converged on Wall Street to protest pharmaceutical price-gouging and federal cutbacks in Medicaid funding.

Manford family house, original home of PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford

photo by: Christopher D. Brazee for the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

Jeanne Manford and her husband, Dr. Jules Manford, frequently opened their home to LGBT youth whose families didn't support them.

Manford Family House, Flushing, Queens

You’d never be able to tell from the outside, but this unassuming house on a quiet residential street in Flushing, Queens, served as a kind of surrogate home for homeless LGBT youth in the 1970s, and an incubator for one of the largest support groups for families of LGBT-identifying people. After schoolteacher Jeanne Manford’s son Morty, a gay man, was assaulted during a 1972 protest rally, Manford was moved to organize the first formal meeting of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, the following year.

Jeanne Manford passed away in January of 2013, and the house has since passed to a new owner. Her legacy, however, is stronger than ever. At the annual Human Rights Campaign National Dinner in 2009, President Obama acknowledged her contributions to the gay rights movement, speaking about her reaction to a 1972 phone call from a police officer telling her that her son had been arrested as part of a gay rights protest, and that he was a "homosexual." Manford's response to the police officer was, "Yes, I know. Why are you bothering him?"

Today, PFLAG has grown to more than 350 local groups nationwide with thousands of members, and an archive of Jeanne Manford’s papers documenting her work with PFLAG is held at the New York Public Library.

Photographer Alice Austen's house on Staten Island.

photo by: Garret Ziegler/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Alice Austen House operates as a house museum dedicated to the legacy of photographer Alice Austen.

Alice Austen House, Staten Island

Alice Austen, one of America’s earliest female photographers, captured around 8,000 images during the course of her life and career. Her family home on Staten Island, called Clear Comfort, was originally built as a one-room Dutch farmhouse in 1690, with additions made in the 1700s. It was renovated and restored by Austen’s grandfather, John Haggerty Austen, after his original purchase of the property in 1844.

Austen lived at this house with her life partner, Gertrude Tate, for most of her adult life before being forced out by financial problems and illness in 1945. The house continued to deteriorate until the 1960s, when a group of concerned community members realized that the house was threatened by encroaching development. They were able to raise enough money, with the cooperation of local and city-wide government, to restore the house and grounds to how they looked during Austen's time there.

Today, the Alice Austen House serves as a museum, hosting art exhibits and educational programs throughout the year. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.

photo by: Christopher D. Brazee for the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

The Lesbian Herstory Archives, founded in 1974, have occupied this 20th-century limestone townhouse since 1993.

Lesbian Herstory Archives, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Originating as an offshoot of the City University of New York’s Gay Academic Union, the Lesbian Herstory Archives was founded in 1974 and has been operating in its current location, a four-story, turn-of-the-20th-century limestone townhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn, since 1993.

The Archives are a self-described library, museum, and community gathering space, ostensibly housing the world’s largest collection of materials by and about lesbians and their communities. The Spoken Word Collection houses 3,000 oral history cassettes, and the Video Collection holds 950 videotapes. Collections like "No More Invisible Women" and "Mabel Hampton Oral History" illuminate the lives and stories of lesbian-identified women in the 20th century, telling a story that frequently gets glossed over or pushed aside in more traditional narratives about American history.

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

@kateallthetime

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