October 19, 2017

Education Safe Havens: 3 Historic LGBT Sites in New York City

LGBT history is American history. But in the mid-1990s, Rodney Wilson—a high school teacher in Missouri—came to the critical realization that this facet of American culture was not celebrated or taught to young people. Wilson teamed with other educators and community leaders to establish LGBT History Month. They selected the month of October to support the academic calendar and to connect with existing LGBT traditions, such as National Coming Out Day, which occurs on October 11 each year.

LGBT history remains largely invisible throughout the United States, and sites associated with this history are often dismissed for their vernacular style and seeming “ordinariness.” In fact, humble spaces such as warehouses, community rooms, bars, and cafes have played critical roles in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement. In New York City, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is documenting this underrepresented history and working to see that worthy sites receive the formal recognition they deserve: addition to the state and national registers of historic places and, as appropriate, to NYC Individual Landmarks.

The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project website is an educational resource in the spirit of LGBT History Month: a tool for those who identify as LGBT to (re)connect with history, and for all—regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation—to gain awareness of and appreciation for the significant impact LGBT individuals have made on American culture at large.

New Yorkers are supporting LGBT history in education in a number of ways. Openly gay NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm (Queens), a former public school teacher, is actively working to incorporate LGBT history into the NYC public school curriculum. The Harvey Milk High School—named for the pioneering San Franciscan of the same name—started as a limited support program for LGBT-identifying students and has expanded to encompass the mission of a complete high school.

Little Red School House in New York City.

photo by: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2013

Little Red School House, Manhattan, New York.

And the initiative History UnErased is putting teacher curriculum kits in the hands of educators in NYC and beyond, empowering teachers to address this important history.

In the spirit of LGBT History Month, celebrate these three historic sites tied to LGBT education, below.

Little Red School House

196 Bleecker Street, Manhattan, New York

One of the most notable and enduring cultural institutions in New York’s Greenwich Village is the Little Red School House, often considered the city’s first progressive school. As early as 1912, reform educator and school founder Elisabeth Irwin worked at revising public school curricula; she started her progressive curriculum in 1921. A high school (now Elisabeth Irwin High School) was added in 1940.

Irwin’s partner of 30 years was Katharine Anthony, a social researcher and feminist biographer. They lived nearby at 23 Bank Street and were members of the feminist Heterodoxy Club.

Student Homophile League at Columbia University in New York City.

photo by: Christopher D. Brazee/NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2016

Student Homophile League at Columbia University, Manhattan, New York.

Student Homophile League at Columbia University

116th Street and Broadway, Manhattan, New York

Columbia University became the first collegiate institution in the United States—and possibly the first in the world—with an LGBT student group when in the fall of 1966, sophomore Robert Martin (using the pseudonym Stephen Donaldson) founded the Student Homophile League.

By 1970, Columbia’s gay student group had become the more politically active Gay People at Columbia-Barnard. The group sought to “present as complete a view as possible of the contemporary gay experience: socially, educationally, and politically.” Gay People at Columbia-Barnard provided social services and held “rap sessions” in the dormitories to discuss gay issues. The group still exists today as the Columbia Queer Alliance.

Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth (now the Hetrick-Martin Institute)

112 East 23rd Street, Manhattan, New York

The Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth (IPLGY) was founded in 1979 by Dr. Emery S. Hetrick, a psychiatrist, and Dr. A. Damien Martin, a professor at New York University. There, they gathered a group of concerned adults to discuss at-risk LGBT youth in New York City affected by homophobia, physical abuse, homelessness, chronic truancy and school dropout rates, and involvement in sex work.

From 1983 to 1986, IPLGY occupied the full third floor of the building at 112 East 23rd Street. To address chronic truancy of LGBT youth—who were afraid to attend schools for fear of harassment and violence—IPLGY established the Harvey Milk High School (HMHS) in collaboration with the New York City Department of Education.

It became the first public high school in the country to provide a safe haven for youths victimized in public schools because of their sexual orientation or gender expression.

IPLGY was renamed the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) in 1988. Today, HMI and the Harvey Milk High School operate out of 2 Astor Place in Manhattan.

Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth, now the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York City.

photo by: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2017

Institute for the Protection of Lesbian and Gay Youth, now the Hetrick-Martin Institute.

Beyond their website, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project highlights the stories of LGBT pioneers and influencers and the sites connected to them through collaborations with schools, like the National Park Service’s Mather Building Arts & Craftsmanship High School. They partner with institutions such as the New York Public Library, Columbia University’s Teachers College, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Boston Architectural College, as well as with organizations such as the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. They host tours of important historic sites rich with LGBT history such as Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark and the final resting place of gay men and women whose legacies continue to shape American culture.

The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is also a participating member of the Stonewall 50 consortium, an organization of cultural institutions and educational groups coming together to plan LGBT-specific programming throughout 2019, the year that New York City hosts World Pride in June and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.

By: Amanda Davis

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