For young children, New York City offers boundless possibilities. For LGBTQ+ parents, it’s a welcoming, diverse and dynamic metropolis where their kids are free to express themselves and learn about the world. The differences between being a parent and an LGBTQ+ parent, or parent of an LGBTQ+ child, are subtle but important. Sure, children love to run around playgrounds and be wowed by awesome museums, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity (or those of their parents). But LGBTQ+ parents need to know which venues are safe and accepting; they need a support system of other LGBTQ+ parents and allies to create a community for their children; and they are interested in institutions where they can see reflections of their own stories.
We asked some local parents to discuss the places where their children have thrived in NYC over the years.
Whenever Dawn Ennis, a transgender mother of three living in Brooklyn, is looking for a fun and educational venue to take her children, her first choice is the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. “The museum is a floating treasure trove of naval, aviation and space artifacts,” Ennis says. “What a thrill to explore the aircraft carrier, go inside an actual submarine, see a Concorde and the original space shuttle prototype, Enterprise. We even met George Takei there! We brought sunblock because some of the fun things to see, like the warplanes and record-setting jets, are outdoors on the flight deck.”
There’s poignant history on display downtown at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Says Ennis, “It honors all the victims of that day in an emotional and educational way. Other options to explore while downtown include Soho’s Leslie- Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, the world’s first institution dedicated to works by LGBTQ+ artists.
For Michael Wilke, a gay dad and New Yorker for more than 30 years, both the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and Brooklyn Children’s Museum are must-visits for his 2-year-old. “Both are great for young kids!” Wilke says. “They’re not really museums—they’re play spaces with some learning components about animals, bugs, and sound and water. The Brooklyn one is bigger and a little better laid out but not as easy to get to by train.”
Wilke has also become something of an expert at finding playgrounds around the City for his young son. “Heckscher Playground in Central Park /articles/fun-things-to-do-in-central-park has a huge sand area,” Wilke said. “I also set up playdates with my gay friends at our homes. We’ll often go together to the free monthly LGBTQ+ family playdays at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan. It has children of all ages [8 and under], snacks—usually pizza, bagels, animal crackers—games and art activities for the kids. They’re often themed too: for summer and fall, they bring in bales of hay.” While you’re in Central Park, don’t miss the fun Friedsam Memorial Carousel, which has been in operation since 1871 and is perfect for toddlers. It’s just $3 a ride and you can find it mid-park from the east or west side by entering at 66th Street.
Paul Heney is another gay New York dad who likes to explore the kid-friendly areas around Central Park. He often takes his two young children to the Hayden Planetarium inside the American Museum of Natural History, located on Central Park West at 79th Street. “Think of the planetarium as training wheels for your first sojourn into a night outside,” he says. “The staff will explain what’s where in the night sky, and can use some special effects to show how the stars and planets move over the course of a night or a season, giving you some perspective. You’ll also understand why the North Star is so important to us observers in the northern hemisphere.” A big theater buff, Heney also suggests off-Broadway shows like Gazillion Bubble Show for the little kids or, for much more mature teens, Avenue Q.
Kelli Carpenter, a lesbian mother of four and co-founder of New York–based R Family Vacations, suggest some nontraditional kid-friendly stops throughout NYC. “One of our favorites is The Frying Pan, located at Pier 66 at Hudson River Park. The location includes a former Lackawanna Railroad barge, a bar and grill, plus the Lightship Frying Pan, a historic rail float bridge and an authentic 1900s caboose. From wandering around the facility full of history and authenticity, to watching the boats go by in the harbor to the delicious food, this is a place that’s perfect for families.”
Carpenter and her kids also enjoy bringing picnic lunches and a couple of bikes to catch the ferry for an outing to Governors Island. The island features various play areas (including some big slides), and offers bike rentals for those who don’t bring their own. “The views of Manhattan, the harbor and the Statue of Liberty are spectacular,” Carpenter says.
For LGBTQ+ parents, NYC has plenty of culture outdoors too: Shakespeare in the Park is an annual tradition in Central Park—and it’s free to go. Snagging tickets requires a lot of patience or luck, but the unique experience at the Delacorte Theater of theater under the stars will provide family memories to last a lifetime.