New York City should be on every LGBTQ+ person’s bucket list.
With one of the largest gay scenes in the United States, a rich history of Stonewall and LGBTQ+ activism and of course some of the most iconic sights in the world.
What’s not to love?
Helen and I have had the pleasure of visiting New York City several times over the past decade, and one of the great things about visiting and revisiting New York is that there’s no end to the number of new things you can explore.
During a handful of our most recent trips, we’ve been taking the time to both educate ourselves and explore the gay scene of NYC and based on our experiences, these are the best LGBTQ+ things that we recommend doing during your trip.
Table of Contents
1. Stonewall National Monument
The Stonewall National Monument is the first LGBTQ+ history site managed by the National Park Service.
Situated inside the 7.7-acre Christopher Park, the monument is dedicated to the Stonewall Riots, which began on June 28th 1969.
The Stonewall Riots are widely regarded as the day the gay pride movement began.
During this time, raids on gay bars were widespread, and finally, the LGBTQ+ community snapped and began fighting back against prejudice and victimisation.
Over the following five days, the LGBTQ+ community and fellow supporters organised the Gay Liberation Movement, which became the pride movement that we know and love today.
Without the passion, dedication and sacrifice of the LGBTQ+ community and its alleys throughout history, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
2. Alice Austen House
One of the lesser-known LGBTQ+ sights in New York City is the Alice Austen House (also known as Clear Comfort), situated on the iconic Staten Island.
Alice Austen was one of the most prominent lesbian photographers of the early modern era and created an extensive collection of more than 8,000 photographs.
These photographs depict the changing New York City environment during the 1930s and 1940s and extensively focus on women and immigrants, giving these people and their new found rights a documented place in history.
Alice lived in a small home on Staten Island with her partner Gertrude Tate until 1945, when finances forced them to move.
Over the following decade, housing developments in Staten Island boomed, and residents quickly realised the likelihood that high-rise apartment buildings might replace the house.
As a result, a group of concerned citizens mounted a serious effort to save the house and its grounds. As a result, The Friends of Alice Austen House Inc was born.
The Friends of Alice Austen House Inc came to an agreement with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation in 1960 that they would operate the house and garden as a historic house museum and begin restoration.
Today the house is home to permanent and travelling exhibitions, including New Eyes on Alice Austen, a permanent exhibit launched in 2019.
This highly emotional and intimate exhibition places Alice’s long and loving relationship with Gertrude Tate in its proper context while highlighting Austen’s life and work for visitors.
3. The People’s Beach at Jacob Riis Park
When you think of New York City, you might not think of a beach but, in the nearby Queens, an hours drive from Times Square, you’ll find just that.
The People’s Beach at Jacob Riis Park is an often-forgotten location steeped in queer history.
Initially, a spot for members of the lower classes to convene, this beautiful beach ended up becoming a place for minority groups, including the gay community, to gather.
As a result, The People’s Beach became the most popular gay beach in New York City.
While the 1960s saw this area of the beach permit clothing as optional, that has since changed. So sadly, if you want to go skinny dipping, this is no longer the best place to do so.
4. Marsha P. Johnson State Park
Formerly known as the East River State Park, the Marsha P. Johnson State Park was renamed after the revolutionary LGBTQ+ icon in 2020.
This waterfront park in nearby Brooklyn boasts stunning views of the Manhattan skyline and has a unique historical influence on the development of New York.
A former shipping dock, the 7-acre park still boasts many of its historical features, with information boards scattered throughout.
However, since the park was renamed in 2020, its development has expanded to feature public art celebrating the life and fierce activism after the iconic woman upon which it is named.
As the park is open year-round, we’ve found it’s the perfect place for a picnic on a nice day or to watch the sunset before heading out to dinner.
5. Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art is the only LGBTQ+ dedicated art museum in the world.
Located in the iconic district of SoHo, the museum boasts an extensive collection of queer art and hosts a vast number of LGBTQ+ community events throughout the year.
The concept for the museum began in 1969 when Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman opened an exhibit produced by gay artists in their loft.
However, the exhibit and its founders quickly found themselves taking on a preservationist role when the AIDS crisis resulted in many works of art being destroyed by the intolerant family members of gay artists.
As a result, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art was born.
Today the museum features several prominent LGBTQ+ artists, including Andy Warhol, George Platt Lynes, Bernice Alice Abbott, etc.
Founded in 1864, Julius’ has been a long-standing bar in the heart of the West Village. However, it hasn’t always been a gay bar.
Instead, gay clientele began flocking to the bar in the 1950s and on April 21st, 1966, one of the most notable and influential moments in LGBTQ+ history took place here.
One of the most well-known anti-LGBTQ+ laws in New York prohibited bartenders from serving gay clientele.
However, when a group of young activists went to Julius’ to challenge this law, they were denied service.
Several reporters witnessed this, and the incident prompted a major investigation from the NYC Human Rights Commission.
Eventually, discrimination was outlawed, thanks to the conflict here at Julius’.
If you’re after high-end cocktails, then sadly, you’re not going to find them here.
However, given the historical significance this incredible bar had on the LGBTQ+ community, it’s still somewhere we recommend grabbing a drink or two on your trip to The Big Apple.
7. Bethesda Fountain
The Bethesda Fountain is not only an iconic site in Central Park, but it’s also an exemplary piece of LGBTQ+ history.
That’s because the Angel of the Waters statue atop the Bethesda Fountain is the 1860s masterpiece of lesbian sculptor Emma Stebbins who became the first woman to have a publicly commissioned sculpture.
She was commissioned to create the sculpture while living in Rome with her partner, Charlotte Cushman, and became one of the most influential women in the American sculpting scene.
Meanwhile, the Angel of the Waters statue became so iconic to the LGBTQ+ community that it was even featured in the groundbreaking play Angels in America.
This two-part gay fantasia play by American playwright Tony Kushner went on to win numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play.
8. New York City AIDS Memorial
The New York City AIDS Memorial honours the memories of the over 100,000 New Yorkers who have died of AIDS and those who continue to live with it today.
Located on the site of St. Vincent’s Hospital (which established one of the first AIDS wards in the United States), it’s easily accessible from areas of Greenwich Village.
This memorial is a humbling site and provides you with the time and space to reflect on how much the LGBTQ+ community has lost, how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.