On March 22nd, fifth floor activists took a walking tour through Greenwich Village, a neighborhood that celebrates and embraces the history of the gay community. We were led by a wonderful tour-guide named Tom Bernardin who took us to many places rich in history and told captivating stories of the monumental events that took place at each of those sights.
We met at Washington Square Park and began by visiting the building in which the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire occurred. (This wasn't directly related to our topic, but it was the week of the 100th anniversary of the fire!)
We traveled west through the Village to a little yellow building with a neon green sign. It was a small bar called Julius’. Mr. Bernardin told us the story of how on April 26th, 1966, a group of gay rights activists called the Mattachine Society, invited reporters to follow them into Julius’, where they, fully aware that it was illegal to serve homosexuals drinks, informed the bartender of their sexuality and ordered a drink. The bartender refused dramatically and the picture that was thus sparking the Human Rights Commission, which the LGBT community started to overthrow the unfair Alcohol regulation.
We walked to the Stonewall Inn where we learned of the famous riots that had taken place there. Stonewall was a gay bar that was raided many nights by suspicious police officers. One night, June 1969, the police busted in for another raid and the customers decided they had had enough. It was their bar, their home, their place of fun and freedom and so they locked the police in and refused to let them out. A riot ensued. The Gay Pride parade was born out of the Stonewall riots.
We went through a little garden and stopped in front of two statue masterpieces created by the artist George Segal. The beautiful statues, known as the Gay Liberation Monument, were made of thick white material and showed four figures. Two women sat side by side on a bench. They leaned toward each other contentedly, their hands on each other’s thighs, heads resting against one another’s like a couple. The way they were positioned made us know they were in love. Two similar figures stood next to them, this time it was two men who smiled at each other and held each other around the waist and shoulders. This pieces of art expressed love and emotion. The same statues had been made in California, where they were twice destroyed by football players in a hate crime.
The Center runs an active youth program, including a summer camp, which, although it is focused on creating a safe space for LGBT youth, is free and open to all.
Something that the center was very serious about was the difference between sex and gender, saying that your sex defines the body parts that you were born with, but your gender defines what you identify yourself as (clothing style, identity preference, etc.). The center even has gender free bathrooms to address the complexity many people experience using public.
The Center also serves as a gallery space for artwork addressing LGBT related themes. Often these pieces are too provocative to be exhibited in traditional galleries.
One piece we visited was a poem that had been written about the Stone Wall riots, personifying the Stone Wall Inn as the mother.