Peaceful and Quiet Conduct on the Streets of the Village: New York City in the Years following Stonewall

Posted April 7, 2016

By Caitlyn Colman-McGaw

It’s now widely acknowledged that the Stonewall Riots of 1969 represent the historical tipping point of the Gay Rights movement. Years and years of work by LGBT folks in New York City and beyond culminated in riots on the street of the Village. With this year representing the 45th anniversary of Stonewall I decided to take a look back at what was it like in the years after Marsha P. Johnson & Company threw the first brick and ignited a movement. Specifically, what was it like to be a lesbian in the 70s in New York City? Gale’sArchives of Human Sexuality and Identity is a fantastic place to discover more fantastic information.

For $0.50, women looking to meet other women could peruse City Women’s regularly posted social events. The magazine constantly aimed to stay fresh and justified the ever-evolving format by claiming they “felt boxed in by our boxes,” a winky acknowledgement to their target audience.

City Women: The Woman’s Guide to New York, 1976
City Women: The Woman’s Guide to New York, 1976

Some such events included gender-specific activities. Inspired by years of the homoerotic traditions of the bathhouse, events like women-only swimming was available downtown.

From City Women, 1976
From City Women, 1976

The sheer range of events offered via resources is impressive. A monthly event calendar included the Lesbian Feminist Liberation Political Committee Meeting, Women Only Volleyball and Dykes Opposed to Nuclear Technology among others – which is not to say there wasn’t crossover in attendees. As a note, any questions about the calendar were to be directed to the Gay Switchboard at 777-1800 or the Lesbian Switchboard at 741-2610.

A Calendar of Events for Lesbians and Gay People, 1979
A Calendar of Events for Lesbians and Gay People, 1979

Lesbianism crept into mainstream media as well, often in blatantly offensive articles. Cosmopolitan tried to cover lesbians in an “Emotional Behavior” article penned entirely by straight authors who deemed homosexuality an illness.  Lesbian Feminist Liberation, Inc. boldly protested Helen Gurley Brown’s editorial decisions, eventually getting the magazine to include a doctor’s note that clarified lesbians were in fact perfect healthy.

Excerpt from Lesbian Feminist Liberation, Inc., 1974

The women who politicized the feminist movement and demanded the inclusion of lesbians referred to themselves as the Lavender Menace. As inclusive as many movements were, there was still blatant inequality among various groups. Even just the description “a group of lesbians, black women and women from the class workshop” doesn’t recognize the intersectionality of these identities. As progressive as activist groups were, there was still a lot of work to be done.

Lavender Menace Excerpt from Women Coming Together With Women, 1970
Lavender Menace Excerpt from Women Coming Together With Women, 1970

Being a lesbian in a city like New York in the 70s was a lot of work on a personal and political level, but women loving women paved the way for their future sisters and brothers. What kind of ephemera will represent our generation’s struggles and triumphs?

Ad from the Gay Alternative, 1973


About the Author

I’m the Young Adult Educational Programming Coordinator at the New York Public Library, which means I get to work with teens and rad teen librarians all over the city. I’m a huge fan of graphic novels, young adult literature and coffee. I live in Brooklyn with my archivist roommate. We try not to spend too much time nerding out over history but sometimes it is inevitable.
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2 thoughts on “Peaceful and Quiet Conduct on the Streets of the Village: New York City in the Years following Stonewall

  1. There was no “Brick” thrown the first night of the Stonewall Rebellion (please stop using the incorrect word to describe what happened . It was not a riot and NOTHING documents the use of that word. I was there. I saw what happened and participated. I have been in a riot (watts and Newark) people out of control , looting and indiscriminate destruction of property . This did not happen. there were no loose bricks on Christopher street unless you brought them in yourself, , You have a responsibility to not simple repeat myths that are not based on reality or you writing becomes suspect.
    I knew Marsha before Stonewall and after. We were good friends, I met Sylvia the first night Sylvia showed uo, The is the second night of Stonewall Rebellion . Sylvia was active from the first night of the formation of the Gay Liberation Front on the third night od the Rebellion. We were friends, good friends . I assune you took as truth the stories that circulate, A good scholar does v homework. I am sorry you did nto seek me out and speak to me . As one of the few actual participants alive and active from the first night in building the modern LGBT movement it would have benefited your research,

    • Hi Jim,

      Thanks your thoughtful comment. We reached out the author of the post and she acknowledges there is so much more to the Stonewall Rebellion than what is described here, hears your criticism, and appreciates your feedback.

      The Gale Team

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