Not long ago, if you wanted to find an outdoor place where the LGBTQ community congregated, you either had to ask the right person or possess a very fine-tuned gaydar. Times have changed. With our community more visible than ever, outdoor spots where LGBTQ people converge have proliferated, and some are even sanctioned by the government.
In June 2017, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the first official monument to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people commissioned by the State of New York, which will be built on a lawn in a West Village stretch of Hudson River Park. The memorial, designed by Brooklyn-based multimedia artist Anthony Goicolea, will add another open-air spot for us to be who we are and celebrate the freedom to love.
Here are some of our favorite outdoor spaces where LGBTQ people can assemble for sun, fresh air and peace.
The New York City AIDS Memorial
Just a few blocks north of Sheridan Square and across from the former site of St. Vincent’s hospital, the New York City AIDS Memorial opened in late 2016 and has already become a local gathering spot, hosting readings, peaceful demonstrations and vigils. This triangular park features a steel canopy and, underneath it, engraved paving stones with words from the Walt Whitman poem “Song of Myself” (selected and designed by artist Jenny Holzer) that circle a reflecting pool at the center. Amid the hubbub of Greenwich and Seventh Avenues—just a block away from the LGBT Community Center—it is a surprisingly peaceful place to read and reflect.
Recently named a National Historic Landmark, triangular Christopher Park is the birthplace of modern gay civil rights movement, where the Stonewall Riots broke out in the summer of 1969. Decades later, it’s still a vibrant vortex of LGBTQ life. Bars and cabaret spaces like The Monster, Pieces, Julius, Boots and Saddle, Marie’s Crisis, The Duplex and, of course, The Stonewall Inn are all nearby, not to mention iconic commemorative sculptures by George Segal. This is where hundreds gathered to celebrate the federal legalization of gay marriage in 2015, and the area continues to host demonstrations for civil rights and against intolerance.
The Courtyard at the LGBT Center
When the LGBT Center was renovated in 2014, a café and outdoor courtyard area were created, giving the building and its visitors a new place to socialize and network. The courtyard is enveloped by the old brickwork of the building (a former school constructed in 1844) and attracts an active and diverse group that includes queer youth, activists and tourists. It’s a great place to get work done, have meetings or just gossip over a cappuccino (from Think Coffee’s counter in the lobby).
Christopher Street Pier
The pier at the end of Christopher Street has been a meeting place for LGBTQ people for decades, and despite the transformation of the Hudson River waterfront, it remains a lively place for young gay and trans kids of color to gather and be themselves. The LGBTQ activist organization Fierce NYC was formed in 2000 to fight for queer youth’s right to be here (check out the inspiring 2016 documentary Kiki, which gives a sense of this community). On sunny summer days, the pier becomes a gay oasis for New Yorkers who didn’t make it out of town for the weekend.
Julio Rivera Corner
The southwest corner of 37th Avenue and 78th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, commemorates Julio Rivera, a 29-year-old Puerto Rican gay man who was attacked on July 2, 1990, by three men and later died at Elmhurst Hospital. Julio Rivera Corner was dedicated in 2000 just outside the schoolyard of PS 69, where Rivera was attacked. The murder galvanized the Jackson Heights LGBTQ community and led to the formation of many Queens LGBTQ organizations, as well as the annual Queens Pride Parade. A moment of silence is still held here every year. Jackson Heights’ gay clubs and bars, such as Hombres Lounge and Club Evolution, are also nearby.
Sheep Meadow, Central Park
Sheep Meadow is a 15-acre oasis of gorgeous parkland where a wide cross-section of New Yorkers come to unwind, sunbathe, throw a Frisbee and watch dogs run free. It’s a serene escape with epic skyline views soaring high above the trees, and served as the terminus for the first Pride march in 1970. There’s also a Le Pain Quotidien within walking distance in case you need a refreshing Arnold Palmer (or a restroom). You can find the meadow by entering on the west side of Central Park at 67th Street, located just past Tavern on the Green.
Jacob Riis Park
One of the best NYC beaches, Queens’ Riis Park has been a gay destination for decades and is an example of the City’s vibrantly multicultural LGBTQ community. People of all colors, backgrounds and ages come here, creating a raucous, lively gathering at the eastern end of this expansive public beach. It’s accessible by subway, bus and ferry, though the stops for those are closer to Rockaway Beach; to find it, when facing the ocean from the main entrance, walk to the left all the way down the boardwalk to the far east of the park and then listen for the music.
The High Line
The High Line is a landscaped promenade on an old train trestle that starts in the middle of the Meatpacking District. It serves as an elevated gateway to the fashion, style and culinary hot spots that have come to define Chelsea, an LGBTQ-centric neighborhood. Strolling on a warm summer day is a must. Later, you can cool your heels in the water feature just north of 14th Street. To enjoy some relaxation, try to snag a spot on the Diller-Von Furstenberg Sundeck or on the small but coveted 23rd Street Lawn. These spaces fill up quickly, but farther north there’s a long radial bench with sections usually open for some peace and quiet.
Alice Austen House
The Alice Austen House is a historical landmark honoring the photographer and lesbian icon who lived here. It also operates as a museum featuring Austen’s work and showcasing the talents of contemporary photographers. The gorgeous garden around the gothic-style cottage is one of Staten Island’s best outdoor spaces with views of the Manhattan skyline and Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Tompkins Square Park
Tompkins Square Park is the East Village’s 10-acre town square, known for its queer culture and history. It’s a gay-friendly gathering spot where Wigstock, an outdoor drag festival featuring icons like RuPaul and Lady Bunny, got its start back in the 1980s. The park played a central role in the stage and screen versions of the rock musical Rent. These days, Tompkins Square Park is the starting point for the Drag March during Gay Pride month. It’s also home to two playgrounds, handball and basketball courts, chess tables and plenty of green space to lay out for a picnic or some people-watching.