A witness to history: Looking back at the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in NYC
By: John Newton
This story was originally published on AFAR | May 30, 2019
Across New York City, various institutions are commemorating the June anniversary of the Stonewall Riots with a slew of captivating events. Here's where to observe the city's LGBTQ history throughout the month.
This June, New York City looks back on the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 — a pivotal moment in LGBTQ history both in New York and around the world. Exactly 50 years following the riots, which gave birth to the first-ever Pride March held during 1970 in New York City's Greenwich Village (and inspired other ongoing Pride observances around the world), the city also becomes the first in the United States to host WorldPride. This month-long celebration brings a packed schedule of special LGBTQ-themed events to one host city every few years.
Beyond attending the free Stonewall 50 Commemoration Rally on June 28 (held from 6 to 9 p.m. on Christopher Street and Waverly Place), celebrating at the NYC Pride March on June 30 (starting on 26th Street and Fifth Avenue at 12 p.m.), and checking out the WorldPride Mural Project (which brings colorful street art honoring the LBGTQ community to locations across all five boroughs this month), here's where to mark the 50th anniversary of Stonewall in New York City throughout June.
Observe LGBTQ history through an up-close lens
When the Stonewall Uprising began in New York City's Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969, photographer Fred W. McDarrah had a front-row seat on history and, fortunately for the historical record, he had a camera in hand.
As the first staff photographer of the Village Voice beginning in the 1950s, McDarrah chronicled life in New York City during one of its most vibrant cultural and political periods, from the rise of the Beatniks in the '50s to the formation of ACT UP, an advocacy organization founded in the '80s in response to the AIDS crisis. (McDarrah contributed to the alt-weekly until his passing in 2007.) McDarrah was not a member of the LGBTQ community himself, but 50 years ago on that fateful June night, he was truly in the right place at the right time, when just a few doors down from the Village Voice's office in Greenwich Village, a riot broke out at the Stonewall Inn, a local LGBTQ bar, following a police raid. Over the following week, daily protests for equal rights marked a radical turn in the liberation movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Since then, McDarrah's photographs have become iconic images for what is often viewed as the symbolic birth of the contemporary fight for LGBTQ rights.
Young people gather outside the Stonewall Inn on the night of the riots, June 28, 1969. | Courtesy Fred W. McDarrah Archive/MUUS Asset Management Co LLC
For the Stonewall Riots anniversary, the Museum of the City of New York has gathered some 40 images by McDarrah — some of the uprising itself and others from 25 years of NYC Pride marches that followed — and presents them in the exhibit PRIDE: Photographs of Stonewall and Beyond, open June 6 through December 31. (It accompanies a larger exhibit, The Voice of the Village, which includes more than 100 photographs by McDarrah taken over the course of his career with a particular focus on civil rights and anti–Vietnam War demonstrations in New York City from the '60s through the '70s.)
While the Stonewall Uprising was an expression of defiant resistance, for exhibit curator Sarah Seidman, it is the full range of emotions that McDarrah captured in his subjects that makes his photographs so powerful. "His Pride parade images show people marching with signs, but also the exuberance and celebratory nature of the events," Seidman says. "He captured both the political agenda as well as the celebration of identity and community."
STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) march during the fourth annual Christopher Street Liberation Day March (also known as the NYC Pride March) on June 24, 1973. | Courtesy Fred W. McDarrah Archive/MUUS Asset Management Co LLC
More must-see Stonewall 50 art exhibits in New York City
After seeing PRIDE: Photographs of Stonewall and Beyond, dive deeper into New York's LGBTQ history at these various exhibitions across the city.
Open through July 13 in the main branch of the New York Public Library at Bryant Park, a free exhibition titled Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50 features the work of leading photojournalists from the gay liberation movement (including Kay Tobin Lahusen, the first out lesbian photojournalist) alongside posters, pamphlets, and other materials from the library's archives.
Look Back/Move Forward is New York University's contribution to the celebration: a crowded calendar of movie screenings, speakers, and exhibits that reflect on Stonewall as a turning point for the LGBTQ movement. Notable among the lineup is Art after Stonewall, 1969-1989, an extensive exhibition on view in two parts (one section at NYU's Grey Art Gallery through July 20, the other at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art through July 21).
Protestors march at a 1970 NYC Pride Rally. (Image by Diana Davies, one of the leading photojournalists who documented the LGBTQ liberation movement during the '60s and '70s.) | Courtesy of New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division
From June 5 to 29, the Soho Photo Gallery in downtown Manhattan will host Photography After Stonewall, highlighting the work of 23 living LGBTQ artists whose images demonstrate how the Stonewall Uprising, according to exhibit's curators, "made possible a type of imagery that earlier generations had to suppress." Also throughout the month of June, The James New York—NoMad, near Madison Square Park, will display a Stonewall art exhibit in its lobby. The ICONSshowcase will spotlight unique printed posters featuring "faces and places" of significance in New York City's LGBTQ history, as well as recommendations for spots to visit across the city that are connected to the themes in each poster.
The New-York Historical Society recently opened two Stonewall 50 exhibitions: one on LGBTQ nightlife before and after Stonewall and another highlighting the contributions of lesbians and queer women to the LGBTQ movement. The display, open through September 22, includes a special installation that looks at NYC Pride marches from the 1960s to the present day.
Until December 8 at the Brooklyn Museum, an exhibition titled Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall presents the works of 28 LGBTQ artists born after 1969; the show draws its title from the words of a prominent figure of the 1969 uprising, transgender artist and activist Marsha P. Johnson.
A walk through LGBTQ history in the West Village
Many sites that were central to LGBTQ life in New York City in 1969 no longer stand, and in the decades since then the community has become more dispersed. Restaurants and bars catering to the LGBTQ community can be found especially in Chelsea, Hell's Kitchen, and neighborhoods in Brooklyn, including Park Slope and Williamsburg. Still, the West Village is where the LGBTQ movement as we know it today began. Here are three of its historic highlights.
The Stonewall Inn is a remarkable survivor. Drinking a beer or waiting your turn at the pool table, you might not realize you are visiting a historic site: the country's first National Monument dedicated to the LGBTQ-rights movement. (That is, unless you happen to visit on a day when it is hosting a political event or rally, which does happen with some frequency.) Near the entrance, an original, framed police poster declaring that "This is a Raided Premises" is a reminder of the summer evening in 1969 that would change the course of LGBTQ history around the world. The Christopher Street establishment is open daily from 12 p.m. to 4 a.m.
While other streets in Manhattan had periods as the centers of an underground gay life, after Stonewall, Christopher Street became famous nationally as the heart of the city's gay and lesbian community. Even as the LGBTQ community has become more spread out across New York City over the years, gay-owned bars and restaurants such as Ty's NYC and Pieces still line this street west of Sixth Avenue — and they are busy almost every evening. A new guided walking tour with Urban Adventures focuses on LGBTQ history in Greenwich Village and includes stops at many significant Christopher Street landmarks and establishments during the three-hour trip. From $79 per person (ages 21 and older)
The Center — or, more formally, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center — was established in 1984 and truly lives up to its name: Some 400 different events take place at this building on 13th Street each week, including readings, talks, and political meetings. Even if you aren't attending an event, you may want to make your way to the second-floor men's room, which is covered in murals by Keith Haring; they were completed in 1989, shortly before the artist's death. It's an exuberant, and graphic, celebration of gay male sexuality (a far cry from some of the tamer images associated with the artist's Pop Shop).
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