The 3-hour tour takes visitors through Greenwich Village’s LGBTQ+ history, including the Stonewall Inn where pivotal riots kicked off the gay rights movement in 1969, an event that marks its 50th anniversary this year. Attendees will also be able to grab a drink at Julius’, the city’s oldest known gay bar; load up on rainbow sprinkles at Big Gay Ice Cream and tour the iconic West Village, where the movement’s preeminent figures lived, worked and fought for change.
Tour guide Jillian Courtney says it’s important that the tour features multiple voices from the community. ‘As a cis woman – a white queer woman – I need to make sure that I’m not just telling the story of white cis queer women,’ she says. ‘It’s important to represent the entire community.’
The tour uncovers the stories of the movement’s lesser-known trans and lesbian figures, such as black drag queen and gay rights activist Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie, whose brawl with police was reportedly the spark that ignited the Stonewall Riots. But for Jillian, being a part of the tour is more than just learning about historical figures and events. ‘I hope [tour attendees] get out of it an understanding of the LGBTQ+ experience. I hope people get a sense of community out of it.’
What were the Stonewall Riots?
In the early morning of June 28, 1969, the New York Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn, a mafia-owned gay bar. At the time, very few establishments catered to openly gay patrons, and the NYPD routinely harassed members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The police singled out cross-dressing patrons and drag queens for arrest. The so-called ‘three-item rule’ meant that if people wore fewer than three items of clothing typically associated with their gender, they were subject to arrest.
The details of what followed are hard to pin down, but eyewitness reports say the police got into a scuffle with a woman believed to be Stormé DeLarverie, and the surrounding crowd started hurling bottles at the police.
The growing, angry crowd forced the police to retreat into Stonewall and barricade the doors. By that point, the crowd had turned into a riot: some made firebombs and others broke a street meter to use as a battering ram. Eventually more cops showed up and forced the rioters to disperse.
Over the next several nights, gay rights activists continued to show up near the Stonewall Inn, to demand their safety, community and visibility, setting the groundwork for what would become the LGBTQ+ rights movement.