Activism Before Stonewall
The June-July 1969 Stonewall Uprising is widely considered a key turning point in the LGBT rights movement, but efforts to achieve LGBT equality in the United States actually date back to the 1920s when Henry Gerber — who later lived and worked on Governors Island — founded the Society of Human Rights in Chicago.
In the 1950s and ’60s, “homophile” groups such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis formed chapters in several cities and openly identified as “homosexuals” at demonstrations and in televised appearances, despite the threat of arrest, being fired from their jobs, or being disowned by their families in the conservative McCarthy era.
This curated collection highlights the little-known history of pre-Stonewall activism in New York as well as the 1970 raid and aftermath of the Snake Pit, which inspired even more people to become involved in the fight for LGBT equality.
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Featured Historic Sites ( 13 )
In June 1969, a week before the Stonewall uprising, a group of local Queens residents formed a “vigilante committee” to harass gay men cruising in a nearby Flushing Meadows-Corona Park... Learn More
Ernestine Eckstein was an influential lesbian of color who was active in the LGBT rights movement in the pre-Stonewall years. While living in this tenement building, from 1964 until 1968,... Learn More
Completed in 1930, the Barbizon-Plaza Hotel was the first residential hotel equipped as a music and arts center in the United States. Three pioneering homophile groups — Mattachine Society, Daughters... Learn More
On April 18, 1965, the fourth-ever gay rights demonstration in the United States – and the third in New York City – took place at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, across the... Learn More
On December 2, 1964, the second-ever public demonstration for gay rights in the United States – and the first to challenge the psychiatric profession – took place outside the Great... Learn More
On September 19, 1964, the very first public demonstration for gay rights in the United States took place outside the U.S. Army Building in Lower Manhattan. Organized by Randy Wicker,... Learn More
Early gay rights activist Henry Gerber lived on Governors Island from the late 1920s to 1945 as a member of the United States Army. In 1924, Gerber founded the Society for Human... Learn More
Renowned gay rights pioneer Franklin (“Frank”) E. Kameny grew up in this semi-detached brick house from 1925 to 1948. Kameny, who frequently visited his parents’ house until 1979, became a... Learn More
Trans woman and Bronx native Christine Jorgensen lived in this house with her family from her birth in 1926 until the early 1950s. After her overseas gender reassignment surgery made... Learn More
From at least December 1958 to July 1968, this building near Madison Square was the location of the offices of the New York Area Council of the Mattachine Society, Inc.,... Learn More
On April 21, 1966, a “Sip-In” was organized by members of the Mattachine Society, one of the country’s earliest gay rights organizations, to challenge the State Liquor Authority’s discriminatory policy... Learn More
The Student Homophile League, the first gay student organization in the country, was founded at Columbia University in 1966 and held many of its activities in Earl Hall. In 1970,... Learn More
In 1970, less than a year after Stonewall, the police raided the Snake Pit bar and detained many people at the local police station. After one person attempted to escape... Learn More