The birthplace of the modern gay rights movement, the home of Broadway and the party playground of the Club Kids of the 1980s, New York has one of the richest LGBTQ cultures in the world.
The Big Apple is arguably the most important city in the history of LGBTQ rights; it’s here, in 1969, the infamous Stonewall Riots catalysed the fight for equal rights. Following a police raid on Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn on 28 June, hundreds of gay men, lesbians, trans people joined violent demonstrations, defending their communities and lifestyle. Today, New York’s Pride festival both commemorates and continues their fight for equality.
NYC loves its queers whether they’re serving up rainbow sprinkled cones at Big Gay Ice Cream, making provocative independent short films at the Brooklyn Museum, or dancing with drag queens at a Highline Ballroom gender-bending brunch.
Our LGBTQ guide to NYC covers parties, performance art and Pride and everything in between.
1.Pride NYC (23 – 25 June 2017)
Whether you want to stay loyal to its activist roots and join the annual protest rally, get into the festival spirit at three-day bash Pride Island or get truly hedonistic with the creatures of the night at the Highline Ballroom Fantasy party, New York Pride has something for everyone. The main parade falls on the Sunday but there is so much more to get your rainbow flags flying for.
Art collective Cheryl is based in Brooklyn and a place to expect the unexpected – just look at their URL for proof. With guests dressed up as crazily as the performers, their parties are unpredictable, ridiculous and totally silly. This year’s Pride party theme is Big Cats so get your leopard print on and don’t forget your tail.
But Pride New York ensures its ladies are as well looked after as its lads. Look for women-only events like Moxie for upscale cocktails and live music, Femme Fatale for a sexy rooftop dance party on the Sunday and Teaze for a super cool DJ line-up.
Travelling lesbian party Hot Rabbit pops up all over the city for great club nights and they’re hosting the official 'Dyke March after party' for Pride on Friday night with burlesque and their signature sexy go-go dancers.
And Pride doesn’t have to be only about staying up all night and dancing until your feet are bleeding. The annual street fair PrideFest has a slightly more family friendly atmosphere with street performers, market stalls and a big name headline act – this year it’s LeAnn Rimes.
While much of the LGBTQ scene in New York celebrates and embraces diversity, individualism and creativity, it also commemorates the darker times the community has faced. Pay your respects at the AIDS memorial which was completed in 2016; the triangular metal canopy sits opposite the former St Vincent’s hospital, whose dedicated AIDS unit was ground zero for victims of the epidemic. Underneath the sculpture, the Walt Whitman poem Song of Myself is inscribed in memory to the more than 100,000 New Yorkers who have died of the disease since 1981.
A more uplifting stop is the new Second Avenue subway where the artworks decorating the 72nd Street station includes a mural of a gay couple holding hands that has become a sort of unofficial monument to embracing New York’s same sex couples since. Stop by for a photo.
If you’re after a dose of high culture, catch an exhibition at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art which has been dedicated to showcasing queer artists since it opened in 1967.
For all the campy fun of LGBTQ New York, the city thrives on the scene pushing creative boundaries whether it’s on stage or in galleries.
For film buffs, the IFC Center has a fantastic monthly programme called Queer | Art | Film whose "Summer of Resistance" programme invites activists and collectives to screen importnat films. If you’re in the city from July 5 - August 5, head to the month-long Hot! Festival at Dixon Place which celebrates queer culture with theatre, comedy and cabaret.
To make sure you know your New York gay history, the Museum of the City of New York on Fifth Avenue is dedicated to exploring what makes the Big Apple so special, and their rotating programme of talks and exhibitions often cover LGBTQ issues. Past subjects have included trans activists after Stonewall, the AIDS and HIV epidemic and Gay Gotham, an exhibition about underground queer art and culture.
Drag queens have always ruled New York City’s gay scene and they were on the front line when the riots started at the Stonewall Inn, but since the phenomenon that is Rupaul’s Drag Race took over our televisions you can hardly move for fierce queens slaying it on the sidewalk and on stage in Hell’s Kitchen. Head to The Phoenix bar on Friday nights for their fabulous viewing parties of the show to see who has to lip sync for their life.
If you’d rather see the real thing live, you’re spoilt for choice. Head to legendary drag palace Lips that has been bringing charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to audiences for over two decades. Book dinner and a show for a celebration, or a boozy brunch with the queens to start your day with a lip sync or two. Or if you’d prefer a classic night of gender-bending in an old-fashioned dive bar, try Pieces or Boots & Saddle for a great show and drinks specials.
Areas like Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen have all been the centre of the LGBTQ community at one point or another, depending on rents. Barracuda is one of the less hardcore options; great for evening drinks and meeting people IRL instead of by swiping right, it’s been voted the city’s favourite gay bar multiple times.
The Cubby Hole in the West Village seems to have been around forever and is still going strong. It’s super welcoming and has been lesbian, gay and straight friendly since 1994.
For something a little more flamboyant, Flaming Saddles is hard to beat and camp doesn’t even begin to cover it. The Western-themed bar has hunky cowboy bartenders, lethal shots and dancing on the bar. Yeehah.
You don’t have to be in Hell’s Kitchen to hit up the gay scene. In Brooklyn, Metropolitan is a classic and best in the summer months when they hold weekly Sunday barbecues on their huge outdoor terrace. And nearby sister bar Macri Park is one of New York’s lowest key gay bars – the bartenders are still buff but their shirts are most definitely on. Just a great neighbourhood dive bar with an outside patio, and it’s straight-friendly.
While plenty of NYC’s big queer events are for anyone and everyone, the bar scene is pretty clearly divided into gay and lesbian spots. Ladies in the know head to Henrietta Hudson; it’s a sexy, flirty spot for drinking and dancing with some of the city’s coolest ladies. Look out for the lesbian trivia nights and up-and-coming female-orientated queer bands.
If your vibe is an old school sweaty dance party of good-looking people who don’t take themselves seriously then Eastern Bloc is unbeatable. It feels like the best kind of queer house party with old pornos projected on the walls and a sexy take on Soviet decor. It’s a proper gay bar though and not the place to take your straight Drag Race-loving girlfriends who just want to shimmy.
Much better to take your straight friends to The Monster in the West Village which has been around for years and welcomes all. They have different parties every night of the week from disco to showtune cabaret and legendary drag queen Lady Bunny in residence twice a month.
They don’t do things half-heartedly at The Eagle, a full-on fetish club for leather enthusiasts and kinks of all kinds. The boys are buff, the guys are gorgeous and nights like Foot Fetish Monday show that all are welcome. If you’re planning on swinging by (pun definitely intended), pick up a new outfit at gay-friendly Nasty Pig in Chelsea which stocks underwear, harnesses, hotpants and plenty of leather.
For the ladies, try Williamsburg’s hip bar The Woods on a Wednesday for their lesbian club night Misster which, as well as the cute girls, has a taco truck out back for late night snacking.