Photo: Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock

The 15 Most Important LGBTQ Landmarks in the US

by Ashley Moor Feb 7, 2019

From the very first queer magazine to significant protests for LGBTQ freedom of expression, there are a number of buildings around the United States that are still standing as testaments to the history of the LGBTQIA+ community. Though it seems now like a world so far out of our grasp, there was once a time when members of the queer community could not even assemble for a few beers in peace. In fact, in a not-so-distant past, “social justice” did not appear to be in the realm of possibility for LGBTQ people.

Fast forward to decades later, and, though there is still much work to be done, LGBTQ trailblazers like Harvey Milk and Pauli Murray made a case for gay rights — and inevitably won. To honor these people, organizations, and protests that ultimately brought the issues of the LGBTQ community to the forefront, many buildings significant to the community’s history have been made into national landmarks. So if you’ve only ever heard of the Stonewall Inn, brush up on your history and add these 15 important LGBTQ landmarks to your pride bucket list.

1. The Black Cat Tavern — Los Angeles, California

First established in 1966, the Black Cat Tavern was a popular gay bar in Los Angeles known for being one of the first places to house the riots protesting police harassment of LGBTQ people — taking place two years before the famed Stonewall riots. These riots were the direct result of when Los Angeles police force raided the bar on New Year’s Eve, beating a large portion of the crowd with any objects that they could find. At the end of the night, they had beat two bartenders unconscious and arrested two men and had them registered as sex offenders — for simply kissing as the ball dropped at midnight.

On February 11, 1967, a little over a month after the incident, riots were organized by a group called PRIDE (later becoming the popular LGBTQ publication, the Advocate). This event is credited with bringing further awareness to police hostility toward the gay population. On November 7, 2008, the site was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Now, guests can visit the present-day Black Cat restaurant, which pays homage to the original bar with photographs lining the walls.

2. Castro Camera — San Francisco, California

If you know anything about LGBTQ culture, it’s likely that you’ve at least heard of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California. From 1972 and until his assassination in 1977, Milk owned Castro Camera — a camera store in the Castro District of San Francisco. This location ultimately became the center of the neighborhood’s growing gay community and the campaign headquarters for his various runs for office. Decades later, the store has been converted into the Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store, with a plaque in front of the store memorializing Milk.

3. Henry Gerber House — Chicago, Illinois

Listed as a US National Historic Landmark, this home in Chicago was originally the home of Henry Gerber, the founder of the Society for Human Rights — the first American organization working for gay rights. In the early 1920s, the Old Town section of Chicago, where Gerber lived, had become incredibly bohemian and accepting toward any LGBTQ lifestyles. Originally from intolerant Germany, Gerber found solace in this area, and in 1924, decided to create his own organization to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community surrounding him. Not only that, but that same year, along with other members of the organization, the first gay periodical in US history called Friendship and Freedom was created.

Though the society ended only a year later due to police raids and intense scrutiny, this first gay rights organization is now considered an incredibly important part of history. For guests curious about the humble beginnings of LGBTQ societies in the US, they only can visit the outside of the building, as it is now privately owned.

4. Julius Bar — Manhattan, New York

Cocktail at Julius Bar in New York City

Photo: Julius, Bar/Facebook

Known as New York City’s oldest continuously operating gay bar, Julius was opened in 1840 and began attracting gay patrons in the 1950s — although the management staff refused to acknowledge their presence. On April 21, 1966, the bar became the backdrop to a historical event called the “Sip-In,” in which the Mattachine Society, one of the first LGBTQ groups, challenged the practice of bars not allowing LGBTQ patrons to drink on their premises. Eventually, the courts ruled in favor of the LGBTQ community, affirming that they should be allowed to assemble in peace at any bar of their choice. Decades later, this bar is still home to a vibrant community and landmark for LGBTQ activism. It even has Mattachine nights every third Thursday of the month.

5. Carrington House — Cherry Grove, New York

The Carrington House was a bungalow in Cherry Grove, New York, acquired by theater director Frank Carrington in 1927. Located on Fire Island, Cherry Grove eventually became a hamlet and refuge for members of the LGBTQ community throughout a large portion of the 20th century. Carrington often rented his property to other LGBTQ members in Cherry Grove and beyond (Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s here). Other guests included New York City Ballet co-founder Lincoln Kerstein, fashion designer Bill Blass, actor Henry Fonda, actress Gertrude Lawrence, and actress Katharine Hepburn. Now listed on the US National Register of Historic Places, the home is unfortunately not open to the public, though dedicated fans can view the historical property from the outside, or spend the day in the LGBTQ-friendly paradise that is Cherry Grove.

6. Earl Hall at Columbia University — Manhattan, New York

Earl Hall at Columbia University in New York City

Photo: Dmitrii Sakharov/Shutterstock

In 1966, Earl Hall at Columbia University in New York City became the first collegiate institution in the United States to host an LGBTQ student group. Robert Martin founded the Student Homophile League, with permission from Columbia University, Barnard College, and religious advisors. The group then began meeting in Earl Hall — the center of student religious life. In 1970, the group changed their name to the Gay People at Columbia (or Gay People at Columbia-Barnard). Since its creation, the Gay People at Columbia group has made substantial changes in the LGBT scene at the university and beyond. Guests can still pay a visit to Earl Hall to see the group’s headquarters that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

7. Dr. Franklin E. Kameny Residence — Washington, DC

Considered to be the father of gay rights activism, Dr. Franklin E. Kameny moved into a residence in Washington, DC that soon thereafter became the headquarters for a gay civil rights organization that began in the 1960s. In fact, according to the National Park Service, the Kameny House “served as a meeting place, archives, informal counseling center, headquarters of the Mattachine Society, and a safe haven for visiting gay and lesbian activists.” Some time after moving into the home, Kameny founded the Mattachine Society, which later became a trailblazing LGBTQ rights organization — and eventually helped overturn the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of homosexuality as a mental illness. Kameny was also the first openly gay man to run for office, though he did not win. And, although it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States, the residence was purchased by another homeowner after Kameny died in 2011.

8. Walt Whitman House — Camden, New Jersey

The Walt Whitman House, located in Camden, New Jersey, was the last residence of poet Walt Whitman before he died in 1892 and was the setting for many of his later works. Thought to have been gay or bisexual, his relationships and poetry indicate that the poet was very active in the LGBTQ scene in the 19th century. Over a century later, the Walt Whitman House is operated as a museum by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, and contains many of the poet’s actual possessions inside.

9. The Women’s Building — San Francisco, California

Beginning in 1973, the Women’s Building in San Francisco is a nonprofit arts and education center known for advocating self-determination, gender equality, and social justice for a number of minorities — including the LGBTQ community. Inevitably, this building housed the nation’s first woman-owned and -operated community center. In 1984, muralists created one of the most renowned pieces of art in San Francisco on the outside of the building, depicting famous women and their contributions to society. To this day, visitors can enjoy the historical gravity of this building — along with the building’s mission to help women and girls find their rightful place in the world.

10. The Furies Collective — Washington, DC

Established in the summer of 1971 in Washington, DC, the Furies Collective was a communal lesbian group that gave a voice to lesbian separatism through its newspaper, The Furies. Serving as a prime example of the lesbian feminism that emerged from the women’s movement in the 1960s and 1970s in the US, the Furies Collective was a group of 12 lesbian activists who lived together in one home — working and contributing to the chores of the home as a unit. While the collective did not last long, many present-day lesbian feminists cite the importance of this community’s existence. The group’s home became the first lesbian site put on the list of National Register of Historic Places — though it’s a private residence that isn’t open to the public.

11. Gay Liberation Monument — Manhattan, New York

Gay Liberation Monument in NYC

Photo: poludziber/Shutterstock

Located on Christopher Street in the West Village, the Gay Liberation Monument, made by American artist George Segal, was dedicated on June 23, 1992, to the events that occurred at the Stonewall Inn decades earlier. It’s also been dedicated to LGBTQ rights in general and serves as a reminder of the area’s rich history as it pertains to the gay community.

12. James Merrill House — Stonington, Connecticut

This home in Stonington, Connecticut, was the original home of poet James Merrill and his partner David Jackson from 1954 until Merrill’s death in 1995. Merrill also wrote his book-length epic poem, The Changing Light at Sandover, based on his and Jackson’s communications with the spirit world via their Ouija board set on the third floor. In the years since his death, the Stonington Village Improvement Association has designated Merrill’s former home as a rent-free space for writers and scholars to use. In 2016, it was designated as a Historic National Landmark.

13. Federal Building — San Francisco, California

Federal Building San Francisco

Photo: Rafael Ramirez Lee/Shutterstock

While the Federal Building in San Francisco, California, hasn’t received any special designation by the government declaring it an important site in LGBTQ culture, it once saw a truly groundbreaking protest demonstrated by members of the LGBTQ community. In 1985, a large number of AIDS activists chained themselves to the door of the building, asking for an increase in funding for AIDS-related research, medical care, and social services. These protests were some of the biggest at the time, as they lasted for around 10 years, drawing large crowds and plenty of support. This protest is partially credited with bringing awareness to the AIDS crisis in San Francisco.

14. Pauli Murray Family Home — Durham, North Carolina

Pauli Murray Family Home

Photo: Pauli Murray Project/Facebook

This home belonged to the incredibly prolific reverend and pioneering legal advocate of African-American civil rights in the 20th century. It was originally built in the first decade of the 20th century by Pauli Murray’s maternal grandparents and is the place where Murray was raised as a child. Murray, certainly ahead of her time, longed to be a man and even took hormones for a short period, but eventually settled into life as an androgynous lesbian. As a queer African-American woman, Murray was more deftly able to empathize and fight for the rights that she believed should exist for other minorities. Throughout her long list of accomplishments, Murray was the first African-American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Currently, funds are being raised to turn her childhood home, considered a National Historic Landmark, into a museum for the public and a way to memorialize her amazing legacy.

15. Stonewall Inn — Manhattan, New York

Stonewall Inn in New York City

Photo: Glynnis Jones/Shutterstock

We’d of course be remiss not to mention what is perhaps the most famous LGBTQ landmark in all of the United States. Serving as the site of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the Stonewall Inn was originally constructed in the 1840s as stables. Then, in 1966, the then-nightclub and restaurant favored by the LGBTQ community was purchased by members of the mafia and turned into a gay bar. Until the riots in 1969, the bar was an intimate escape for members of the LGBTQ community, though it was an establishment frequently raided by police.

The police activity in the bar eventually came to a head on June 28, 1969, when an extremely violent protest took shape in the early morning hours when members of the NYPD were trapped inside of the bar due to the presence of angry LGBTQ protesters outside of the bar. This event eventually led to the emergence of gay pride parades around the nation — usually held during the month of June to honor the Stonewall Riots. Though Stonewall Inn closed in 1969 and the space was owned by a number of different businesses throughout the years, it was reopened as an LGBTQ bar in 2007, honoring its historic past.

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