By Alexandra Zuccaro
When I first visited the West Village and Chelsea a few years ago, I stopped by the chic cafés, strolled along the cobblestone streets, and admired all the fantastic local artisans and galleries. I also walked through some iconic tourist destinations such as the High Line, the Whitney Museum, and Chelsea Market. Although I was impressed by these magnificent sites, when I stuck around for a little longer, I realized that there was so much more to these neighborhoods that I didn’t initially see.
Chelsea and the West Village have historically been pivotal neighborhoods for the LGBT civil rights movement. Important gathering spots include the Chelsea Hotel and the LGBT Community Center. On Christopher Street, you can find Julius, one of the city’s oldest gay bars, and George Segal’s Gay Liberation installation is in Sheridan Square. The most significant location, however, has become the Stonewall Inn, which was officially named as a national landmark by President Obama last June.
Over the years, this community and these landmarks have continued to be crucial elements of New York City’s vibrant culture. Right after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June, I stopped by the Stonewall Inn, where I saw something truly incredible. Masses of people were crowding around the landmark and leaving brightly colored bouquets and rainbow flags. The site was so impressive that I barely noticed all the NYPD officers in their anti-terrorism vests surrounding the crowd. Most of the people there didn’t seem to notice the officers either, even though they had every reason to be concerned about another possible attack.
According to data collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, LGBT individuals are more likely to be the target of hate crimes than any other minority group. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that between 2003 and 2015, there were 399 hate crime incidents affecting members of the LGBT community. Despite these statistics, during the week after the Orlando shooting, it wasn’t uncommon to see family members, friends, and couples out on the streets, embracing each other in solidarity. The longer I stayed, the more people I saw come and go on Christopher Street, fearlessly showing their support.
This past fall during my time at Our Town, I had the opportunity to go back to these neighborhoods and write about their stories. Most recently, I reported on a proposal to turn Chelsea and Meatpacking into an Arts District, and state Senator Hoylman’s vandalized apartment building. Perhaps the most interesting story I reported on, though, was the fight for LGBT veterans to get their state benefits. As I delved into this story and talked to advocates and veterans about how they’ve come together to fight for LGBT vets who have been dishonorably discharged based solely on their sexual orientation, I was reminded of the LGBT community that showed up at the Stonewall Inn to stand up for their rights after the Orlando shooting. The burden of being singled out based on sexual orientation for LGBT veterans brought people together who felt passionate about an issue they wanted to fight for.
Although I had visited New York plenty of times with my family when I was younger, I had not spent much time with people in Chelsea and the West Village. But my reporting helped me get to know a spectacular community full of individuals who care about each other. Now, whenever I go back to these neighborhoods, I’m confident that this is what I’ll see.