Sip-In History Fill-In (Letter to the Editor)
March 28, 2018
By: Amanda Davis, Andrew S. Dolkart, Ken Lustbader and Jay Shockley
To The Editor:
Re “Friends and fans toast ‘Sip-In’ leader Leitsch” (news article, March 9):
We first met Dick Leitsch shortly before the 50th anniversary of the Sip-In on April 21, 2016. One of the first accomplishments of our New York City L.G.B.T. Historic Sites Project was the listing of Julius’ on the National Register of Historic Places, which was announced at our anniversary celebration there. Since then, we have come to regard Dick as a friend, and cherish his important accomplishments during his time heading the Mattachine Society in the 1960s.
We’d like to clarify a few points about Julius’ and the Sip-In. There has been a bar at that location since the mid-19th century, and under the current name since around 1930. The New York State Liquor Authority was created in 1934 at the end of Prohibition. Under the S.L.A.’s loose “regulations,” a bar that was “disorderly” could lose its license, and early on, the mere presence of gay men or lesbians came to be interpreted as being in that category. After the Sip-In, there was no court case in New York about gay bars. The Sip-In publicity, and Mattachine’s negotiating the interest of William H. Booth, the African-American chairperson of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, caused the S.L.A. to disavow having had such a policy on homosexuals.
Helen Buford, the current owner of Julius’, is a wonderful steward of the bar and its history. We are pleased the upcoming April 21 event for the Sip-In anniversary will also be a fundraiser for our project.
Finally, Dick Leitsch’s wishes for his funeral and for his remains’ final resting place is for them both to be at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields on Hudson St., not the Church of the Village.
Amanda Davis, Andrew S. Dolkart, Ken Lustbader and Jay Shockley
Davis, Dolkart, Lustbader and Shockley are members, New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project
Sharing LGBT history with the Norwegian Consulate
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project was delighted to meet with members of the Norwegian consulate and the Minister for Children and Equality, Ms. Linda Helleland, on March 17, 2018. The Minister and her delegation were in NYC for the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women summit.
Starting with a luncheon at Julius’ Bar, we walked Greenwich Village and shared the important history of sites connected to LGBT and American history. Also attending the afternoon’s activities were SAGE and OutRight. We hope you enjoy this recap in photos, short video clips, and dynamic Instagram Stories, via @norwaynewyork.
ALERT: LGBT historic site at risk of demolition
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Important cultural heritage site central to the early LGBT rights movement at risk of demolition
Preservation groups join together to advocate for the protection
of sites of cultural significance in New York City
New York, NY – A New York City site tied to the local and national history of the LGBT rights movement is at risk of demolition. 69 West 14th Street, at Sixth Avenue, is where the Gay Liberation Front held important community activities and political organizing in the immediate aftermath of the 1969 Stonewall uprising.
“69 West 14th Street’s significance to LGBT history here in New York City and as part of the larger LGBT rights movement cannot be overstated,” said Jay Shockley, co-director of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, a nonprofit launched in 2015 with a mission to research and document sites of LGBT significance throughout NYC’s five boroughs. “This was the location where the Gay Liberation Front, the first post-Stonewall gay rights organization in America, was founded and where it first held meetings.”
News that the commercial occupant of the building had closed its doors first circulated via the blog Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York; subsequently, Our Town reported that the building’s immediate neighbors were also being vacated and demolition is expected sometime this year. Since the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project launched its critical efforts to document historic sites in 2015, 69 West 14th Street is the first site actively threatened with demolition and underscores the urgency of the organization’s work: to document sites that shaped LGBT and American culture before they are lost.
Cultural heritage protection is also a priority of the Historic Districts Council (HDC). Earlier this month, HDC selected the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, along with the New York Preservation Archive Project, as organizations to represent the larger issue of Cultural Landmarks as one of its Six to Celebrate campaigns. “In recent years, the City has protected several landmarks based largely on their cultural importance,” says Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, the city-wide advocate for New York City’s historic neighborhoods and sites. “This is a stated objective of the Landmarks Preservation Commision and one we very much support. Through coalitions fostered by the Six to Celebrate program, we hope to broaden and strengthen the public conversation about how to recognize, honor and protect sites of cultural significance.”
View the history of 69 West 14th Street
on the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project (click for more).
About the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is a cultural initiative and educational resource that is documenting historic sites connected to the LGBT community throughout New York City. Its interactive map features diverse places from the 17th century to the year 2000 that are important to LGBT history and illustrate the community’s influence on American culture. The Project is nominating sites to the National Register of Historic Places and developing educational tours and programs.
About the Historic Districts Council
Since 1970, The Historic Districts Council (HDC) has been a vital force helping to preserve historic neighborhoods and buildings throughout the five boroughs. HDC’s mission is to ensure the preservation of significant historic neighborhoods, buildings and public spaces in New York City, uphold the integrity of New York City’s Landmarks Law, and further the preservation ethic. We work directly with people who care about our city’s historic neighborhoods and buildings, and represent a constituency of over 500 local community organizations across all five boroughs.
Earl Hall at Columbia University Listed on National Register of Historic Places
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ken Lustbader, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
p: (917) 848-1776 / e: [email protected]
Earl Hall at Columbia University
Listed on National Register of Historic Places
Important venue for LGBT gatherings nominated by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project for its affiliation with the Student Homophile League, the first gay student organization in the country, founded at Columbia University in 1966.
New York, NY – This week, Earl Hall at Columbia University was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, following its nomination by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project and in recognition of Earl Hall as a venue for meetings and dances of the Student Homophile League, the first gay student organization in the country.
In 1966, Columbia University became the first collegiate institution in the United States — and possibly the first in the world — with an LGBT student group. In the fall of that year, sophomore Robert Martin (using the pseudonym Stephen Donaldson) founded the Student Homophile League following a meeting with Columbia University and Barnard College representatives, religious advisers, and two of the most important national leaders for gay and lesbian rights, Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings. The small student group had the support of the university chaplain and, thus, gained space in Earl Hall, the center of student religious life. The university officially recognized the group in April 1967. In 1970, the Student Homophile League became the more activist Gay People at Columbia (also known as Gay People at Columbia-Barnard), which sponsored a series of popular Friday-night dances in Earl Hall’s auditorium.
Earl Hall was nominated to the State and National Registers of Historic Places by the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, a cultural heritage initiative and educational resource dedicated to broadening people’s knowledge of LGBT history. In so doing, the Project is acknowledging sites that are important to LGBT history as well as those that illustrate the community’s influence on American culture at-large. This is the fourth LGBT historic site the Project has successfully nominated to the State and National Registers since 2016.
“We are delighted to see Earl Hall listed on the National Register of Historic Places, following our nomination,” said Andrew Dolkart, Project co-director and lead author of the nomination. “Columbia University’s Earl Hall hosted the first student gay group in America, the Student Homophile League, later Gay People at Columbia, founded in 1966. Earl Hall was also the site of pioneering monthly gay dances that were key social events for younger gay men and lesbians. We are thrilled that the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, with the support of Columbia University and the New York State Office of Historic Preservation, has been able to prepare the documentation that resulted in the Federal government’s recognition of Earl Hall’s significance to LGBT history and American history. Too often LGBT history is either hidden by institutions or simply unknown due to a lack of focused efforts at documentation and education. The Project’s work to reverse that trend is immensely important, and the State and National Register listings are validation of LGBT history’s significance to all Americans.”
Earl Hall’s addition makes six buildings on the Columbia campus to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the first for its LGBT significance. The listing concludes a long process of archival research as well as oral history interviews of people who attended the dances and social events, culminating in the Project’s nomination of the Earl Hall site.
Earl Hall is exceptionally significant in the period 1970-1985 for its association with the gay dances held in the ballroom in the period before the AIDS epidemic forever changed social life for gay men. The first gay dance open to the public was held at Earl Hall on June 19, 1970, and the dances soon became a rare publicly accessible event that provided primarily young gay people with a safe social space to gather and socialize. Over the next five years, the importance of the dances increased.
In 1981, the AIDS virus began its destructive path through the gay community. As the epidemic spread and one method of transmission was identified as sexual contact, the year 1985 marked a watershed in the understanding of the severity of the crisis in New York City. The year 1985 also marks the year when AIDS became a national issue. The death of several celebrities from AIDS, notably Rock Hudson and Ricky Wilson, the opening of Larry Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, and the premier of the television drama An Early Frost, brought the enormity of the crisis to general public awareness. In the same year, the drinking age in New York State was raised to twenty-one, and most bars began requiring identification. This meant that most of the younger gay students were more restricted in where they could dance legally, and the Columbia dances became a more important social venue.
As those who attended the dances can attest, the mixers were welcoming to younger gay men and lesbians, accepting of everyone no matter how they looked or dressed, and were more low key than events at venues such as bars, clubs, and discos. Thus they were an important social space and they played a vital role in bridging the gap between the pioneering early days of gay rights advocacy at Columbia and the often AIDS-related political activism that became evident beginning in the late 1980s.
Visit Earl Hall on the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project website (click here).
About the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is a cultural initiative and educational resource that is documenting historic sites connected to the LGBT community throughout New York City. Its interactive map features diverse places from the 17th century to the year 2000 that are important to LGBT history and illustrate the community’s influence on American culture. The Project is nominating sites to the National Register of Historic Places and developing educational tours and programs. For more, visit www.nyclgbtsites.org, or follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.