It was 50 years ago on June 29th, 1969 when the inciting incident for what’s now become known as Pride Week happened in New York City.
Thirty years after that, in 1999, I was doing some consulting work for a non-profit in Boulder called Rock the Planet that used mountain climbing as a metaphor for positive youth development. The group sent me on a field trip to attend a climbing wall trade show in New York City. This was well before climbing walls became trendy.
It was the dead of winter. I made arrangements to stay with one of my college classmates who still lives on the Upper Westside between Broadway and Central Park on 72nd. It’s between the 72nd and Broadway Station and the Dakota.
A couple days before my visit, he called and said he was deathly ill with a cold and made arrangements for me to stay at one of his friend’s short term rentals in Greenwich Village.
I arrived and was greeted by Jon who escorted me to the little studio, that he rented to me for a couple hundred bucks for the weekend. It was cozy but cold. By the time the steam heated up the small place, it was time for me to leave.
These days, this apartment would be known as an Air B&B. Back then, it was likely an illegal short-term rental.
I don’t recall anything about the trade show I attended, but it was Super Bowl Sunday and the Broncos were playing. I didn’t know the neighborhood that well, since I normally stay a little further uptown at the Hotel Pennsylvania.
Below my apartment was a bar – or what looked like a bar. There wasn’t a prominent sign. Since neither of the New York teams were playing, I suspected the crowd would be light.
When I walked through the door, the place was rocking – loud music, people dancing. There was a TV behind the bar. I elbowed my way through the crowd, and sat down on an empty stool and ordered a beer. I was the only one sitting at the bar and asked the bartender to put on the game.
Meanwhile a couple guys walked over and sat down and struck up a conversation wondering what I was doing there. We had a couple laughs before they disappeared into the crowd.
Eventually, I noticed that the bar was not only full of mostly men, which wasn’t unusual, but there were men dancing with men and guys making out with guys in the booths.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Turned out, I had stumbled upon the infamous and now famous Stonewall Inn. Back in the summer of 1969, it became the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.
In those days, police routinely raided gay bars, but on June 28th of that year, nobody cooperated and an insurrection broke out. The following morning thousands joined a protest on Christopher Street.
By the way, the Stonewall was hoppin’ by the time the confetti was flying at the end of Super Bowl XXXIII . I think I was the only one in the house who knew that the Broncos beat the Atlanta Falcons 34 – 19.