An Ode to Christopher Street

Hey everyone! Michael here, founder and owner of Christopher Street Tours.

When I first started giving tours, I knew the namesake had to be Christopher Street. To me, Christopher Street embodies so much history. It’s where riots began and activists paved the way before us. Yet, to some, especially those who aren’t familiar with the neighborhood, I’m sure the name can be a bit confusing.

“Hey Christopher!” is a common greeting I’ll hear from guests who meet me on tour. Many people think my name is Christopher, and that I named the tour company after myself, but I didn’t. I named it after Christopher Street. I’ll usually joke about this on our Village Pride tour, when we eventually get to Christopher Street. I’ll say “Here is the namesake of our tour company! I didn’t name the tour company after myself! Does anyone remember my name?” And hopefully at least person will shout, “Michael!” and they always get extra bonus points for remembering.

But all jokes aside, Christopher Street has so much important LGBTQ+ history, that when I was thinking of creating Christopher Street Tours, before it had a name, I couldn’t think of any other name that would be as fitting. Words like “rainbow” and “Pride” initially came to mind, but they felt too generic for what I wanted to accomplish and for the narrative I wanted to tell. It includes Pride, but at the heart of it, it’s so much more than that. It’s New York. It’s rioting and protesting. It’s activism. It’s uplifting the voices of those who paved the way before us. Of course, we also stop at the Stonewall Inn, the “birthplace of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.” And guess where that’s located? You guessed it. Christopher Street.

As a young Queer adult, Christopher Street always called to me. It was the place I would always go when I wanted to feel connected and when I needed a sense of community. It turns out, I wasn’t alone in that. Christopher Street has provided some of the most integral spaces for LGBTQ+ community over the last several decades.

Starting with Christopher Street Pier, this waterfront space has long been a sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community (particularly Queer and trans youth of color). Featured in “Paris is Burning” and “POSE”, the Pier has now become synonymous with voguing and ball culture of the 1980s and 1990s. And while we cover the NYC AIDS Memorial on our Village Pride tour, there was another memorial that was built pre-dating this one. In 2008, the AIDS Monument Committee dedicated another AIDS Memorial near Christopher Pier, a 42-foot long semi-circular black granite bench situated on a landscaped lawn with the text engraved on the side, “I can sail without wind, I can row without oars, but I cannot part from my friend without tears.” Today, Christopher Street Pier still serves as an important gathering place for the LGBTQ+ community.

Moving east, away from the Pier, you’ll see the iconic Stonewall Inn, home of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Many know this spark of a moment in LGBTQ+ history, but it’s importance cannot be undermined. The Stonewall Uprising, a 6-night series of protests against police harassment and discrimination, played a pivotal turning point in the LGBTQ+ rights movement. It inspired thousands of grassroots organizations to be formed in the coming years and created a long-lasting, sustainable LGBTQ+ rights movement. And if you are in New York City, you can still go to the Stonewall Inn today and raise a glass to those that paved the way before us!

A few store fronts away from the Stonewall Inn you’ll see Greenwich Letterpress at 15 Christopher Street, the former Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop. Initially located on Mercer Street, the bookshop moved it’s way to Christopher Street in 1973. Not only was this the first LGBTQ+ bookstore on the East Coast (and the first in the country to operate on a long-term basis), but it also served as a vital community center to the LGBTQ+ community. The LGBT Center of Manhattan, which still exists today on West 13th Street, didn’t open until 1983, ten years after the bookshop moved to Christopher Street. The Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop played an instrumental role in providing representation of Queer literature, and also, providing space and community for all.

Lastly, I would be remiss to not at least mention that Christopher Street intersects with Gay Street…and as an LGBTQ+ walking tour company, I have to include a little bit about this! While I wish that I could say that Gay Street was named after all the gay people that live there, that wouldn’t be true. It’s a much more “boring” history, where Gay Street was most likely named after a wealthy land-owner (believe it or not, a “Mr. Gay”) who owned a lot of farmland around what is now Gay Street. However, Cyndi Lauper’s music video for “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” was filmed on Gay Street, and if that’s not an iconic gay moment, I don’t know what is!

All of this to say, Dear Christopher Street, I hope we’ve done you proud and continue to honor your history, legacy, and continued activism. I’m proud, every day, to be part of Christopher Street Tours. Just in saying the name, I feel like it embodies a whole generation of those that came before me, and I feel so grateful to be able to continue that story, as we all walk literally (or, metaphorically) down Christopher Street.

Want to visit Christopher Street for yourself? Be sure to check out our Village Pride walking tour!

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