By Michael Venturiello
I’m a young, queer historian—not by choice, but by accident. When I first moved to New York City in 2016, I was fortunate enough to live in the heart of Greenwich Village in a spacious, one-bedroom apartment. One night, I flicked on some casual Netflix and David France’s How to Survive a Plague piqued my interest. It wasn’t long before my passive interest became a deeply focused call to action.
The documentary chronicles the stories of young, queer activists in the center of the AIDS epidemic, protesting for health care, for treatment, for visibility. Two particular aspects of this film struck me:
The activists were populating the very same streets where I stood, and yet, I wasn’t seeing anything around me to commemorate this Movement.
There was an unspoken agreement among the protestors—they knew that it was unlikely that there would ever be a treatment or a cure in their lifetimes, yet, they continued to fight for the generations that would come after them.
This is largely what inspired me to found Christopher Street Tours—a NYC-based organization dedicated to increasing access to LGBTQ history. Our mission is to share stories and uplift voices from those who paved the way before us. We do this mostly through walking tours, school visits, speaking engagements, and events. We discuss the call to action that existed in previous generations, in hopes that our current generation is compelled to a similar call to action—just one example of what can manifest from this crucial intergenerational connection.
In honor of Pride, I’m sharing a few spots around New York City to honor and reflect on this intergenerational relationship between past and present:
Stop 1: NYC AIDS Memorial / Former St. Vincent’s Hospital, 76 Greenwich Ave
On World AIDS Day in 2016, this massive memorial was unveiled, honoring the 100,000+ New Yorkers who have died from AIDS, as well as the caretakers and the activists. We see Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself laid in stone—with themes of community, unity, and hope for a brighter future—as well as a risen reflection pool, and a steel archway of white triangles, symbolizing a flight of souls.
Stop 2: Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South
This beautiful church, located right off Washington Square Park, has long been an advocate for social justice. In the 1980s, the church helped to provide resources for people living with HIV and AIDS. Today, an estimated third of its congregation represents the LGBTQ community. It’s also considered to be a New York City landmark.
Stop 3: Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, 126 Crosby Street
This is my favorite bookstore in NYC, with a little-known LGBTQ past. In 1990, a subgroup of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) formed Housing Works, dedicated to addressing the needs of those experiencing homelessness and living with HIV and AIDS. Today, Housing Works operates thrift shops and this bookstore cafe, and all proceeds go back towards their mission.
Stop 4: Hudson River Park AIDS Memorial, Hudson River Park at former Pier 49 between W 11th and W 12th Street
Perhaps the lesser-known AIDS Memorial, this monument sits on the peaceful Hudson River Park, offering space to reflect and process. It was built by the AIDS Monument Committee and dedicated in 2008 to commemorate those who have lost their lives, to those that live with HIV, to the caretakers, and “for all the educators and researchers who will one day eradicate it.” The inscription reads, I can sail without wind, I can row without oars, but I cannot part from my friend without tears.
Christopher Street Tours is currently offering virtual and in-person events. You can learn more at www.christopherstreettours.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
During this Pride season, I hope you can all find ways to honor those that came before us, who paved the way for the existence of these celebrations, and above all else, I wish you a sense of love, Pride, and community.
Michael Venturiello is the founder of Christopher Street Tours.