This is the latest post in our Pride Month series, read the first on the West Village here.
June is Pride Month, which makes it especially exciting time to be in the Village. LGBT history is closely tied with our neighborhoods, and throughout the course of this month we’ll be highlighting the LGBT history of the West Village, East Village, South Village, and NoHo. All of these sites can also be found on our Village Preservation Civil Rights and Social Justice Map, and we encourage everyone to check it out and let us know about other histories and locations to be added. This week, we’re looking at the East Village.
Known more for its gritty and punk past, the East Village is also home to a few standout LGBT figures, events, and locations. From the literary to the ludicrous, East Village LGBT history is as out there and alternative as this countercultural neighborhood. The four sites below exemplify the multi-faceted but always transgressive histories that share the neighborhood’s penchant for freedom, freakiness, and fighting back.
Allen Ginsberg Residence 1977-1996 (437 East 12th Street)
For more than 40 years, from 1952 until his death in 1997, Allen Ginsberg lived and worked in the East Village. For the majority of that time, from 1977 until 1996, he lived in this apartment building at 437 East 12th Street. As one of the most prolific writers of the Beat Generation, he was a staunch advocate of free speech and an early proponent of sexual freedom and gay rights.
In 1954, he went to San Francisco, where he met and fell in love with Peter Orlovsky, who would become his lifelong partner. It was also in San Francisco that he first presented “Howl”, his best known work, to the public. Part of a collection of poetry titled “Howl and Other Poems”, it contains many references to illicit drugs and sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual. An obscenity trial in 1957 was widely publicized. Literary experts testified on the poem’s behalf and Judge Clayton Horn ruled that the poem was of “redeeming social importance”.
He also lived at 206 E 7th Street (1952-1953), 170 E 2nd Street (1958-1961), 704 E 5th Street (1964-1965, building has been demolished), 408 E 10th Street (1965-1975), and 404 E 14th Street (1996-1997).
Tompkins Square Park
Tompkins Square Park was the original location of the annual Wigstock Festival. Created in 1984 by Lady Bunny, Wigstock was an outdoor drag festival held each year on Labor Day to act as the unofficial end of summer for the gay community in New York City. It began when a group of drag queens from the nearby Pyramid Club performed a spontaneous drag show in the park. Crowds grew each year, and the festival moved, first to Union Square Park, then to the piers on the Hudson River. Though Lady Bunny said that the 2001 festival would be the last, it returned in 2003 under the auspices of the Howl Festival.
The Pyramid Club (101 Avenue A)
Since opening in 1979, the Pyramid Club has been credited with defining the East Village drag and gay scenes of the 1980s and is known for its politically conscious drag performance art and as a hangout for the counter-culture of the neighborhood. The club was established by Bobby Bradley, Alan Mace, and Victor Sapienza.
The Pyramid Club hosted drag performers such as Lypsinka, Lady Bunny, and RuPaul. It was here that the annual Wigstock festival began in 1984, when a group of the club’s drag queens performed a spontaneous drag show Tompkins Square Park. In addition to performance art, cabaret, and dancing, many up-and-coming bands also performed here, such as Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The building itself is a wonderfully preserved pre-law tenement and is included in the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, which was designated in 2012. The club, though a far cry from its former incarnation, still operates in the ground floor of the building.
Ana Maria Simo Residence (52 East 1st Street)
Ana Maria Simo is a playwright, essayist, and novelist. Born in Cuba and educated in France, she made important contributions as a lesbian activist. In 1976 in New York City, she founded the lesbian theater Medusa’s Revenge, the first lesbian theater in New York City, with actor and director Magaly Alabau. In 1992, she co-founded the Lesbian Avengers, a direct action group focused on issues vital to lesbian survival and visibility, in her apartment here at 52 E 1st Street, with longtime lesbian activists Maxine Wolfe, Anne-Christine d’Adesky, Sarah Schulman, Marie Honan, and Anne Maguire. The Lesbian Avengers inspired chapters all over the world, and one of its long-term accomplishments is the annual Dyke March in New York City.
GVSHP Civil Rights & Social Justice Map
GVSHP has released a map of sites of significance in the history of civil rights and social justice movements in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo. In addition to LGBT history, the map also covers African-American, Women’s, Hispanic, and immigrant history, as well as many other locations important to civil rights and social justice movements – view it at www.gvshp.org/civilrightsmap. The map is updated regularly and if you know any sites that should be included, feel free to email it, along with any information (and sources!) to firstname.lastname@example.org.