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.

Header Photo
Dick Leitsch, president of Mattachine Society of New York, at Mattachine’s office at 1133 Broadway off Madison Square Park, 1965. Photo by Louis Liotta/New York Post. Source: NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images.

Featured Historic Sites ( 13 )

Grand Central Parkway & 78th Avenue

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

437 East 12th Street

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

106 Central Park South

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

Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza

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

7 East 7th Street

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

39 Whitehall Street

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

Castle Williams & Fort Jay

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

103-17 115th Street

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

2847 Dudley Avenue

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

1133 Broadway

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

159 West 10th Street

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

116th Street & Broadway

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

215 West 10th Street

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

Other Curated Themes

14 Sites

Transgender History

26 Sites

Gay-Owned Businesses

17 Sites

Communities of Color

24 Sites

Activism Outside Manhattan

20 Sites

Literary New York

13 Sites

Downtown Arts Scene

21 Sites

City of Immigrants

18 Sites

1970s Lesbian Activism & Community

7 Sites

The Bronx

11 Sites

Brooklyn Heights

8 Sites

Jackson Heights

12 Sites

Staten Island

12 Sites

Why We March

15 Sites

Village Pride Tour

20 Sites

Gay Activists Alliance

13 Sites

The Harlem Renaissance

14 Sites

Jewish New York

20 Sites

Pre-20th Century History

25 Sites

Bars & Nightlife

20 Sites

Homophobia & Transphobia

44 Sites

Broadway Theater District

11 Sites

Influential Black New Yorkers

12 Sites

Early Community Centers

13 Sites

Lesbian Life Before Stonewall

11 Sites

The AIDS Crisis

29 Sites

LGBT-Named Public Schools

15 Sites

Art & Architecture

11 Sites

National Register Listings

21 Sites

Spotlight on the Theater