Trailblazing: A History of Gay Rights in New York

By and
The Stonewall Inn raid, 1969. Photo: NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

It took a while. But with Friday night’s landmark passage of a same-sex-marriage bill — which makes New York by far the largest state in the country to enact such a measure by bi-partisan legislative vote—Albany added to the state’s long history as a wellspring for gay and lesbian rights.

1920ish: Gay life begins moving from the city’s fringes to its cultural epicenter, Times Square. From Yale historian George Chauncey’s Gay New York: “As a ‘pansy craze’ swept through New York, [gays] became the subject of newspaper headlines, Broadway dramas, films, and novels. The drag balls they organized attracted thousands of spectators, and the nightclubs where they performed became the most popular in the city.”

1927: The State Legislature amends a public-obscenity code to include a ban on the appearance or discussion of gay people onstage, sending gay culture back into the shadows.

1964: The Homosexual League of New York and the League for Sexual Freedom picket the Army Induction Center on Whitehall Street to protest the military’s anti-gay policies, an event often cited as America’s first gay-rights demonstration.

1966: Protesting the State Liquor Authority’s policy of letting bartenders refuse to serve gays, the Mattachine Society gay-rights group stages a “sip-in” in which three men enter the West Village’s Julius’s, announce their homosexuality, and wait, in vain, for a drink.

1967: Columbia University’s Student Homophile League (SHL), founded in 1965 and often cited as the first on-campus gay-rights advocacy group, receives a university charter.

1968: Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, depicting gay men at a birthday party, premieres off Broadway. Documentarian Crayton Robey calls the play “the first time [audiences] actually saw same-sex guys as dimensionalized characters, human beings.”

1969: A police raid of the Stonewall Inn bar is met with two days of violent protest and resistance.

1970: Christopher Street Liberation Day, organized in commemoration of the Stonewall riots, is punctuated by the country’s first pride march. The parade makes the front page of the Times and becomes an annual event.

1982: Months before AIDS is formally recognized by the CDC, Larry Kramer and Rodger McFarlane help launch the Gay Men’s Health Crisis hotline. It receives 100 calls its first night.

1986: Activists organize a walk on the Upper West Side streets to raise money for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and fight the stigma of HIV/AIDS. The event becomes the AIDS Walk New York, the largest one-day AIDS organizing event in the world.

1987: Kramer announces the creation of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which takes AIDS activism in a newly confrontational direction.

1998: Mayor Rudy Giuliani signs the domestic-partnership bill, which codifies executive orders issued by David Dinkins that created a domestic-partner registry guaranteeing health benefits to city employees and hospital-visitation rights to all gay and lesbian couples.

2007: A marriage-equality bill passes in the State Assembly for the first time, though State Senate leaders decline to bring it to a vote.

2011: On the fourth try, gay marriage passes the State Senate and is signed into law by Governor Cuomo.

Related: Marriage Equality Act Passed by State Senate
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