This past month in New York City has been a lot.
Every shop wears a Rainbow Flag and every corporation and major retailer seems to offer a welcoming message to the LGBTQ community or a line of multi-colored ‘gay apparel’.
The message of World Pride blazes so brightly in the Big Apple that it can be seen from fabulous space (nearly obscuring another 50th anniversary — next month’s celebration of the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing.)
But keep in mind that just fifty years ago no such celebration would have ever occurred. In fact the city was certainly doing its best to obscure, frustrate and even expel its gay and lesbian population from living in the open.
Stormé DeLarverie. Craig Rodwell. Dick Leitsch. Marsha P Johnson. These are some of the people that made this present moment possible.
But those individuals have others to thank for creating a network of gay and lesbian spaces in New York City that have existed — mostly in the shadows — for over 150 years. Flawless Sabrina. James Baldwin. Alice Austen. Julian Eltinge. And yes — Walt Whitman.
So yes — celebrate Pride! Hit the streets this weekend — either in that parade or the other parade. And listen to one of these Bowery Boys: New York City History podcasts to give some important context to the celebration.
Walt Whitman in New York and Brooklyn
This spring we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Whitman, a journalist who revolutionized American literature with his long-crafted work “Leaves of Grass.” The 19th-century cities of New York and Brooklyn helped shape the man Whitman would become — from its bustling newspaper offices to bohemian haunts like Pfaff’s Beer Cellar.
Absolutely Flawless: A History of Drag in New York City
In the beginning there were two styles of drag — vaudeville and ballroom. As female impersonators filled Broadway theaters — one theater is even named for a famed gender illusionist — thrill seekers were heading to the balls of Greenwich Village and Harlem.
By the 1930s, the gay scene began retreating into the shadows, governed by mob control and harshly policed. By design, drag became political. It also became a huge counter-cultural influence in the late 1960s — from the glamour of Andy Warhol’s superstars to the jubilant schtick of Charles Busch.
Sip-In At Julius: Gay New York in the 1960s
In 1966, a revolutionary gay-rights organization took a page from the civil rights movement to stage a demonstration in a small bar in the West Village. This little event, called the Sip-In at Julius‘, was a tiny but significant step towards the fair treatment of gay and lesbians in the United States.
The Stonewall Riots Revisited
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, undercover police officers attempting to raid the Stonewall Inn, a mob-controlled gay bar with darkened windows on Christopher Street, were met with something unexpected — resistance.
That ‘altercation’ was a messy affair indeed — chaotic, violent, dangerous for all. Homeless youth fought against riot police along the twisting, crooked streets of the West Village. And yet, by the end, thousands from all walks of life met on those very same streets in the days and weeks to come in a new sense of empowerment.