History is sometimes made through the most unexpected of events. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police made a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the city’s West Village area—a fairly routine occurrence that LGBTQ patrons were faced with on a daily basis in their desire to spend evenings among their own people. But for the first time, the bar’s patrons not only fought back, but the incident led to days of protests outside the bar, an event which is now considered the first big step in the so-called “Pride” movement.
Unsurprisingly, New York City commemorates the 50th anniversary of this landmark event as the sponsor of “World Pride NYC/Stonewall 50,” a celebration of the LGBTQ community that includes a special “Opening Ceremony” on June 26 at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, featuring such entertainers as Whoopi Goldberg, Cyndi Lauper and Chaka Khan, and the annual NYC Pride March and PrideFest, held in Lower Manhattan on June 30.
However, whether or not you’re in town those days, there are other less crowded ways to mark this historic moment by visiting some special sites and places that are reminders of the people who fought not only in 1969, but both before and afterward, to further the cause of LGBTQ rights.
Stonewall Inn/Stonewall National Monument
The Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher St.), one of Manhattan’s few remaining gay bars, still operates much as it did 50 years ago, although its clientele is far more diverse. (Indeed, anyone can feel comfortable stopping in for a drink or even a Diet Coke.) More importantly, the bar is now part of the Stonewall National Monument, which notably includes Christopher Park, just outside its doors, where one can find George Segal’s “Gay Liberation” sculpture—unveiled in 1992—which features two standing men and two seated women in natural poses.
Playwrights’ Sidewalk at the Lucille Lortel Theatre
Just down the street from the Stonewall Inn is the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St.), one of Off-Broadway’s most notable showplaces for new work and revivals by both established and up-and-coming playwrights. Just as important, though, is what’s right outside the theater’s front doors: the Playwrights’ Sidewalk, where built-in stars commemorate the names of dozens of this country’s scribes, including such major figures in the LGBTQ community as Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally, Larry Kramer, Edward Albee, Charles Busch and Mart Crowley (whose celebrated pre-Stonewall play “The Boys in the Band” received a Tony Award-winning revival on Broadway in 2018).
NYC AIDS Memorial / The Center
The aftermath of gay liberation led to a period of sexual freedom previously unenjoyed by many members of the LGBTQ community—too many of whom eventually fell prey to the deadly disease of AIDS. Their memories can be honored by a visit to the NYC AIDS Memorial (200-218 W. 12th St.), which features a triangular steel canopy, a central granite water fountain and a series of benches perfect for quiet contemplation. Engraved in the pavement are lines from Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” selected and arranged by artist Jenny Holzer. The AIDS Memorial is also located just a stone’s throw away from The Center (208 W. 13th St.), a building that is a virtual second home for much of NYC’s LGBTQ community, offering a near-endless series of events, classes, and educational and community resources.
New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
The main branch of the New York Public Library (Fifth Ave., between 40th and 42nd sts.), a Beaux Arts masterpiece “guarded” by the stone lions Patience and Fortitude, is an architectural wonder and should be visited by every tourist and resident. But a stop there is particularly timely at this moment, due to two special exhibits. “Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50,” located along the hallways of the library’s third floor, serves up a fascinating assortment of photographs and printed material from the early 1960s and beyond which provide a rarely seen glimpse into the world of political activism and LGBTQ culture. Downstairs, on the main floor, visitors can find “Walt Whitman: America’s Poet,” a compact and beautifully curated exhibition celebrating the legendary author of “Leaves of Grass” that includes copies of the book (including a first edition from 1855), manuscripts and 20th-century books and art influenced by Whitman, as well as historical photographs of 19th-century New York.
Rose Museum at Carnegie Hall
Many people believe that the resistance to police during the Stonewall Riots was inexorably connected to the recent death of superstar Judy Garland, who passed away earlier that week at the age of 47 and whose funeral had been held uptown at the Frank E. Campbell funeral home on June 27. Garland was a gay icon, and her appearance at NYC’s famed Carnegie Hall in 1961 was considered among the greatest evenings of entertainment ever. (Her April 23 concert was preserved for all time on the still-popular album “Judy at Carnegie Hall.”) Those wishing to learn more about this remarkable night are encouraged to visit the Rose Museum at Carnegie Hall (154 W. 57th St.), an intimate space that showcases scores, letters, photographs and other artifacts related to the world’s most memorable musicians.
It may be an odd thought, but on a beautiful day there’s no better way to celebrate life than taking a stroll through Brooklyn’s bucolic Green-Wood Cemetery (500 25th St.), which many of America’s most notable authors, composers, artists, politicians and activists chose as their final resting place. The cemetery’s “residents” include many important LGBTQ figures, including Dr. Emery S. Hetrick and Dr. A. Damien Martin, the founders of the Hetrick-Martin Institute and the Harvey Milk High School; Broadway lyricist Fred Ebb; Emma Stebbins, a sculptor best known for her “Angel of the Waters” masterpiece that sits atop the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park; and Leonard Bernstein.