“LGBTQ history is American history,” says Ken Lustbader, co-Director of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. Together with his co-founders (and one paid employee), these preservationists and historians identify and document the spaces and places where LGBTQ people made significant contributions to New York City and the nation as a whole. “We’re looking at NYC through [an] LGBTQ lens and making this invisible history visible by conveying the rich history of LGBTQ people in NYC,” Lustbader says.
The organization has nearly 200 New York City historical sites listed on its website, with an aim to develop the most comprehensive LGBTQ cultural map in New York City, or any city in America. The sites include the obvious, like The Stonewall Inn, where the namesake riots started in 1969, and the broad, like “the entire Theater District,” as Lustbader says.
The endeavor reaches all corners of the city, spotlighting Flushing Meadow Park, where openly gay architect Philip Johnson designed the New York State Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair, and the 19th Century Bronx home of Christine Jorgensen, where she made headlines after her sex reassignment surgery. Prominent LGBTQ people have been marginalized from mainstream history, but Lustbader and his “passion project” colleagues are working to change that.
Still, there are shortcomings: Racial discrimination often prevented LGBTQ people of color from gaining capital to open bars and restaurants, and many important sites, like those of pivotal to 1980s ball culture, have disappeared due to gentrification. Lustbader and his co-directors are working to uncover underrepresented narratives and better include people of color in their preservation efforts.
The team is also preparing an app and visiting local classrooms to, “educate the next generation that LGBTQ Americans have really contributed to society, politics, art, literature and the general health of our country,” Lustbader says.
With the project’s resources and walking tours, any New Yorker can dip into queer history at LGBTQ heritage sites citywide. Here are a few to start with:
The Stonewall Inn
Greenwich VillageYep, this is the bar known for the historic June 1969 riots, when queer activists fought back against discriminatory police raids. Lustbader says that it’s important for visitors to realize that this is not the “birthplace of the modern liberation movement,” and calling it such can minimize the previous activism led to that pivotal night. Recognizing this and what preceded this turning point, and understanding the streets where all the action took place is a huge part of comprehending LGBTQ history.
West VillageOne of New York City’s longest-standing gay bars, this is a second home to LGBTQ people eager to dig into a burger or share a few drinks with newfound friends. While the interiors have historic charm — the building dates back to 1826 and housed a grocery store before it was converted to a bar in 1864 — its power is derived from the history of the people who supported it along the way. Julius’ survived as a speakeasy during Prohibition, and began attracting a gay clientele in the decades that followed. In April 1966 (pre-Stonewall), it sparked a “sip in,” to fight a New York State Liquor Authority regulation prohibiting bars and restaurants from serving homosexuals.
Julio Rivera Corner
Jackson HeightsA solemn place to visit, this site memorializes Julio Rivera, a gay New Yorker who was murdered by three skinheads in 1990. The tragedy helped generate political movement, especially in Queens, for LGBTQ visibility and fight against discrimination.
Midtown WestWhile sites like Stonewall are famously important to America’s queer history, others may be more subtle. Lustbader recommends looking at the Times Square area through a new lens, to comprehend the massive role LGBTQ people (whether out or not) have had Broadway and theater culture. “It’s amazing to be able to understand that so many theaters have such a rich LGBT overlay,” he says.
Edna St. Vincent Millay Residence
West VillageThe narrowest house in Manhattan is worth a visit for history buffs and architecture fanatics alike. Bisexual poet Edna St. Vincent Millay lived here from 1923-1925, writing in cramped quarters decades before creatives could toil in the relative comfort of WeWork spaces. The townhouse sold for $3.25 million in 2013, and the backyard garden (private access only, sorry) is #goals.
Central ParkIt’s easy to take the beautiful oasis in the middle of Manhattan at face value: Nice grass, few garbage heaps, plenty of room for outdoor imbibing. But the green acreage also had deep significance to gay New Yorkers and visitors throughout the 19th Century. The Ramble was a well-known cruising spot, and the city’s early Gay Pride Marches ventured from Christopher Street to Central Park.
Audre Lorde Residence
Staten IslandBlack lesbian writer and activist Audre Lorde lived here with her partner and two children from 1972 to 1987. Here, she worked on various books and poems, and also co-founded Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press with black lesbian feminist Barbara Smith.
Alice Austen House
Staten IslandThis picturesque historic Dutch farmhouse (built in 1690) was home to photographer Alice Austen and her partner, Gertrude Tate in the early 19th Century. A National Historic Landmark since 1993, it now showcases Austen’s work, hosts weddings and opens its picturesque grounds to visitors. And at $5 a pop, it may be the most reasonable museum admission in all of New York.
AstoriaThe oldest gay bar in Queens, the old guard may remember this dive right off Astoria Boulevard as a lesbian bar, while recent regulars will know it as a straight up queer bar with Drag Race viewing parties and live drag queen performances. Albatross is full of lore, and frequently packed with locals and regulars vying to ensure its continued success.Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.
Get ready to laugh your heart out. The New York Comedy Festival just announced its lineup, and this year, it’s expanding into new ground for the first time.
This fall, from November 7–November 13, the New York Comedy Festival will take over some of the Big Apple’s most beloved comedy venues with over 200 comedians. Featuring over 100 shows across the five boroughs, the festival is set to entertain every New Yorker looking to get some laughs. For the first time ever, the festival is also landing in Long Island’s Nassau County, and it will host shows at the new UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
The star-studded lineup includes some of the biggest names in the world of comedy. The festival will feature John Mulaney, Mo Amer, and Tracy Morgan as headliners, and guests will have the pleasure of attending shows by Conan O’ Brien, Bill Maher, Wanda Sykes, Jenny Slate, Jo Koy, and Shane Gillis, among many others.
This year will mark the 18th edition of the festival, while Carolines On Broadway, the festival’s producer, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
“To come together and experience the best in stand-up comedy and shared laughter is more important than ever,” Caroline Hirsch, the founder of the festival and Carolines on Broadway, said in an official statement. “The Festival has grown over the past 18 years, as we continue to shine a spotlight on the industry’s biggest and brightest stars and the most talented up-and-comers, and reach new and expanding audiences through an amazing line-up of talented and diverse artists.”
Tickets will go on sale starting August 19 at 12pm, and those interested can visit the festival’s website to purchase them. Citi cardmembers will be able to get presale tickets starting from August 15 at 10 am until August 19 at 10 am, and they will have access to buy “select preferred” tickets until October 14 at 10 am.
More shows will be announced in the future. For the current lineup, you can visit this link.