There is no better place to celebrate LGBTQ history and culture than in New York State. From historically significant sites to funky neighborhoods, there are countless places to explore and learn about LGBTQ history and New York’s unparalleled role in advancing LGBTQ rights.
New York City
New York City is considered the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement by virtue of being home to the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Greenwich Village. Today, the Stonewall Inn operates both as a neighborhood gay bar and a national gathering place for the LGBTQ community. The building and surrounding area—including the Gay Liberation Monument across the street in Christopher Park (pictured)—comprise the Stonewall National Monument, the first national park dedicated to LGBTQ history. While in Greenwich Village, you can also check out Julius’, the oldest continually running gay bar in New York City, where history and socializing converge.
Also in the neighborhood is the The Center, where ACT UP met and strategized about how to bring public attention to AIDS during the height of the epidemic. Many pieces of LGBTQ+ art from the 1980s cover the center’s walls to this day. For example, visitors can see the provocative mural hand-painted in 1989 by artist Keith Haring in what was a bathroom, now a carefully preserved space for all visitors to enjoy. Nearby, the outdoor New York City AIDS Memorial sits on the triangular site that was part of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital campus, which housed the first AIDS ward in the city and second in the nation. For many, the area is considered the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic and the mobilization against it.
That’s just the beginning of the LGBTQ experience in New York City, which has long been the most popular destination in the world for LGBTQ travelers. With iconic neighborhoods like Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, there are many options for LGBTQ-friendly shopping, restaurants for every taste, and some of the best nightlife in the city. The LGBTQ legacy extends well beyond the borough of Manhattan. For some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline, check out Marsha P. Johnson State Park in Brooklyn, dedicated to the LGBTQ icon for her role at the Stonewall Uprising. You can also visit the Alice Austen House (pictured) on Staten Island, home to the pioneering female photographer and her female partner of 56 years.
Albany (Capitol – Saratoga)
As the capital of New York State, Albany is the place where the fights for marriage equality, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Acts, and many other LGBTQ laws came to their culmination. Tours of the historic Capitol building (pictured) show the legislative chambers where those debates and votes took place, as well as the Hall of Governors, where the state history timeline proudly includes the nationally significant passage of the state’s marriage equality law.
Albany is the city where Harvey Milk attended the New York State College for Teachers—what is now the University at Albany. The city is also important in national LGBTQ history as the home of the longest continually operating LGBTQ community center in the United States: the Pride Center of the Capital Region. It is located in Center Square (pictured) just steps from Lark Street, in what has traditionally been a neighborhood popular with the LGBTQ community.
Rochester (Finger Lakes)
This Finger Lakes city, home to a vibrant LGBTQ community, was named America’s 11th Gayest City by Advocate.com in 2016. Rochester’s Out Alliance stewards the city’s historical distinction of being home to one of the oldest continually published LGBTQ newspapers in America, the Empty Closet, founded in 1971 and a great resource when visiting Rochester and the Finger Lakes region.
The Out Alliance has one of the largest collections of LGBTQ+ library materials in New York State with over 10,000 items, including fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, rare collections, an entire run of the Empty Closet, and an extremely large collection of early homophile prints such as The Mattachine Society and Daughters of Billitis. Spearheaded by the late Evelyn Bailey, the “Shoulders To Stand On” project documents the history of Rochester’s LGBTQ+ community.
This tradition of progressiveness should come as no surprise given Rochester’s pedigree. It was home to Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and the first statue in the country honoring an African-American. Many LGBTQ visitors seek to honor the struggle for social justice, of which the LGBTQ movement is a part, by visiting the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, and Anthony’s and Douglass’s gravesites in Mount Hope Cemetery.
Rochester’s eclectic Park Avenue area features shops, restaurants, and bars popular with the LGBTQ community. The annual ImageOut Festival is the second-largest LGBTQ film and video festival in all of New York State. It’s celebrating its 31st anniversary October 5-15, 2023 with in-person screenings as well as virtual events.
Sharon Springs and Cooperstown (Central NY)
Sharon Springs in Central New York was once a bustling spa resort with over 60 hotels and rooming houses that hosted up to 10,000 visitors every summer. Oscar Wilde lectured at one of the hotels in the late 19th century. Today, the charming town has a more serene pace and has seen a renaissance thanks to local LGBTQ businesspeople.
The Fabulous Beekman Boys came to fame first as the winners of the 21st season of reality TV’s The Amazing Race, then on their own reality show, and finally as owners of the Beekman 1802 brand of goat milk skincare products. Their flagship Kindness Shop (pictured), with its skincare, bodycare, and artisan offerings, awaits visitors on Main Street in this historic town. Special events throughout the year include their Baby Goat Tours, Kindness Workshops, Farm and Art Tours, and other happenings.
Just a half-hour away in Cooperstown, culture lovers enjoy the Glimmerglass Festival (pictured), with world-class professional opera and musical theater performances in a lakeside setting. The Fenimore Art Museum shows off historical artifacts that would make Hamilton fans drool.
Buffalo & Niagara Falls (Greater Niagara)
The reputation of Niagara Falls as the honeymoon capital of the world was furthered when marriage equality came to New York. One of the first same-sex marriages in the state was held in Niagara Falls State Park overlooking the majestic falls. The flowing water is often lit in rainbow and transgender colors in commemoration of special events like Pride Month.
The Greater Niagara Region is also the home of New York’s second-largest city, Buffalo, rich with history, great food, and a thriving LGBTQ community. LGBTQ icon and musical legend Ani DiFranco hails from Buffalo, where she grew up and started her legendary career. In addition to her tremendous influence on the independent music scene of the 1990s, this Grammy winner and social activist has left an indelible mark on Buffalo with her creation of Babeville. The multi-use facility devoted to the arts, in the heart of the city’s theater district, was renovated from an 1800’s Gothic Revival-style church. The building is beloved by music fans, preservationists, art lovers, and Buffalonians alike.
The heart and soul of Buffalo’s LGBTQ community is the Allentown neighborhood, which runs along Allen Street with many great restaurants, shops, cafes, and bars. Some of the restaurants in this district are believed to have the best Buffalo wings in the city that invented them.
Fire Island (Long Island)
The Pines and Cherry Grove neighborhoods of this narrow barrier island off Long Island have been a haven for LGBTQ visitors since before Stonewall. The island holds a special place in LGBTQ culture as a refuge where people could relax and revel openly at a time where such behavior was shunned or even criminalized.
Accessible by ferry and with boardwalks taking the place of roads, this summertime retreat features pristine beaches, ecologically unique habitats, and a smattering of restaurants and hotels.
Its annual Invasion of the Pines event celebrates the island’s gay history as well, reenacting a 1970s incident when a drag queen from Cherry Grove was denied restaurant service in the swankier and more conservative Pines, only to return with an army of drag queens in tow.