LGBT History: Not Just West Village Bars
Here at GVSHP we are excited about our recently launched Village Civil Rights & Social Justice Map. With our upcoming LGBT history bar crawl at the end of the month (you can sign up for the program here), we thought we would discuss some sites on the map beyond the West Village and its bars that are the subject of our upcoming program. Below is a list of a few locations that we encourage you to check out or pass by next time you’re walking through the East and South Villages and NoHo. To view all of the locations, as well as ones important to other civil rights movements, be sure to check out our map!
Ana Maria Simo Residence, 52 East 1st Street
Ana Maria Simo is a playwright, essayist, and novelist. Born in Cuba and educated in France, she made important contributions as a lesbian activist. In 1976 in New York City, she founded the lesbian theater Medusa’s Revenge, the first lesbian theater in New York City, with actor and director Magaly Alabau. In 1992, she co-founded the Lesbian Avengers, a direct action group focused on issues vital to lesbian survival and visibility, in her apartment here at 52 E 1st Street, with longtime lesbian activists Maxine Wolfe, Anne-Christine d’Adesky, Sarah Schulman, Marie Honan, and Anne Maguire. The Lesbian Avengers inspired chapters all over the world, and one of its long-term accomplishments is the annual Dyke March in New York City.
Allen Ginsberg Residence 1977-1996, 437 East 12th Street
For more than 40 years, from 1952 until his death in 1997, Allen Ginsberg lived and worked in the East Village. For the majority of that time, from 1977 until 1996, he lived in this apartment building at 437 East 12th Street. As one of the most prolific writers of the Beat Generation, he was a staunch advocate of free speech and an early proponent of sexual freedom and gay rights. In 1954, he went to San Francisco, where he met and fell in love with Peter Orlovsky, who would become his lifelong partner. It was also in San Francisco that he first presented “Howl”, his best known work, to the public. Part of a collection of poetry titled “Howl and Other Poems”, it contains many references to illicit drugs and sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual. An obscenity trial in 1957 was widely publicized. Literary experts testified on the poem’s behalf and Judge Clayton Horn ruled that the poem was of “redeeming social importance”.
Ginsberg also lived at 206 E 7th Street (1952-1953), 170 E 2nd Street (1958-1961), 704 E 5th Street (1964-1965, building has been demolished), 408 E 10th Street (1965-1975), and 404 E 14th Street (1996-1997).
Harvey Milk High School, 2 Astor Place (current location)
Harvey Milk High School (named for the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States) was founded in 1985 to serve as the first public high school in the world for, though not limited to, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender young people. The school was originally run by the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), an organization that provides support to at-risk youth, especially non-heterosexuals. Since 2002, the school has been administered by the New York City Department of Education, separate from HMI, though they still share space in the same building. HMI also continues to provide the majority of the school’s arts and culture programming. The school moved here in 1993 from its original location on West Street.
Daughters of Bilitis (final location), 141 Prince Street
Originally founded in San Francisco in 1955, the Daughters of Bilitis was the first lesbian organization in the United States. By 1957, New Yorkers were beginning to comment on the absence of a chapter in New York City. Lorraine Hansberry anonymously wrote a blurb in The Ladder (the organization’s newsletter, which had become the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in 1956) calling for a presence on the East Coast. The following year, Barbara Gittings and Marion Glass founded the New York chapter. The initially tiny chapter shared an office with the gay male organization Mattachine and bounced around the city for the next 13 years. The chapter’s final location was in a loft at 141 Prince Street, in a building that is still standing, one block outside Greenwich Village. By 1972, The Ladder ran out of funds and folded. However, in its 14 years the Daughters of Bilitis’ New York Chapter inspired the creation of dozens more lesbian and feminist organizations across the country.
Gay Activist Alliance Firehouse (former location), 99 Wooster Street
The building at 99 Wooster Street was formerly home to the Gay Activists Alliance, one of the most highly influential LGBT groups of the post-Stonewall era. Founded in 1969 by Marty Robinson, Jim Owles, and Arthur Evans, the group was an offshoot of the Gay Liberation Front. Their location in an abandoned city firehouse at 99 Wooster Street became the first gay and lesbian organizational and social center in New York City. Their “zaps” and face-to-face confrontations were highly influential to other activist and political groups. In 1974 they were targeted by an arson fire and subsequently were forced to cut back on functions. They officially disbanded in 1981.
186 Spring Street Residence
In the era immediately following the Stonewall riots, 186 Spring Street (which was recently demolished) was home to a number of important figures of the Gay Rights movement, serving for a time as a “gay commune” of sorts. Bruce Voeller, who lived in the building, co-led the first delegation of gay rights leaders to ever meet with the White House, helped end the federal government’s ban on employing gay people, helped get homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses, got the very first piece of federal gay rights legislation introduced, and won the first Supreme Court case establishing rights for gay parents. Another resident, Jim Owles, was the first openly gay person to run for public office in New York. Owles, along with Voeller and Arnie Kantrowitz, founded several of the cournty’s first and largest LGBT organizations. The 1824 house was purchased by a developer who originally claimed he would preserve the house, but later announced plans to demolish it to make way for a condo development. GVSHP fought to preserve the building but the Landmarks Preservation Commission failed to act. In 2012, the developer went ahead with plans to demolish the historic home.
Want to see more? Check out the map here — there are nearly one hundred entries!