Image for My 10 favourite photos: New York and San Francisco

My 10 favourite photos: NewYork and San Francisco

Over the past couple of months, as part of my Churchill Fellowship, I’ve been in the US investigating sexual orientation and gender identity based refugee claims. During this time I was based in both New York and San Francisco.

Some people casually described my trip as a “gay pilgrimage” and in some ways it is an apt description. All these cities are home to significant queer people, histories, and landmarks.

So, let me give you a glimpse of some of the more striking features of these cities that I encountered.

New York

Alica Keys provided the inspirational backdrop for my New York travels. After all, it is heralded as the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do.”

The Stonewall Inn needs little introduction. On 28th June 1969 in response to a brutal police raid, patrons spontaneously took to nearby streets in Greenwich Village to resist the ongoing persecution of sexual and other minorities in Manhattan. Now colloquially referred to as “Stonewall,” the Inn is both a US and global symbol for LGBTIQ activism and liberation. Various Pride marches around the world commemorate the Stonewall Riots.

Gay Street was not originally conceived to mark the sexuality of the streets. That said, its proximity to the Stonewall Inn and the demographics of Greenwich Village make the sign a serendipitous reminder of the people who live in the area.

Graffiti artist Keith Haring was not one to shy away from the explicit. Transformed from toilet to meeting room, the New York City LGBT Center is home to one of the more provocative and pleasurable artworks of the 1980s.

While Oxford Street is synonymous with the “gay scene” in Sydney, the “scene” in New York is far more spread out. Queens (particularly places like Jackson Heights and Astoria) brings together LGBTIQ people from various cultural and national backgrounds.

Dive bars are one of the more wonderful things in Manhattan. In the East Village, which I would describe as a much larger and slightly grungier version of Newtown, the local bars are filled with eclectic people and objects. Easternbloc is no exception. With plastic animals, disco balls, Marxist slogans, and vintage gay porn, the club has much to offer. Oh, and there are “free moustache rides” available too.

San Francisco

With less hustle and more hills, San Francisco is a gorgeous and more relaxed city than New York. Once home to activist legend Harvey Milk and the famous GLBT History Museum, San Francisco is understandably seen as a haven for LGBTIQ people.

With the increasing HIV notifications in NSW, it is more important than ever to remember that HIV is not an epidemiological relic of the past. The National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park is more than a haunting reminder of those who have died. It serves to archive the many people who live with HIV and the many people who support them.

It’s easy to spend hours in the San Francisco Public Library. In fact, I did. The Gay and Lesbian Center of the library catalogs material ranging from academic literature on queer media to more graphic erotic magazines. My favourite part, though, was the extensive children’s book collection – especially the tale of the 10,000 Dresses.

Whether it is the Migrating Archives or the “lesbian sex wars” or queers of colour organising, the GLBT History Museum documents some of the most significant aspects of local, national and international history.

On the 26th of June 2013, the US Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and dismissed the appeal that sought to revive Proposition 8. Marriage equality was restored to California. To say the atmosphere in San Francisco was electric would be an understatement.

Within hours of the decision, thousands marched to the famous Castro Street to celebrate. Banners. Dogs. Chaps. Bicycles. Flags. If only more judicial decisions generated street parties!

My fellowship ended with the world renowned San Francisco LGBT Pride. Just imagine the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade combined with Fair Day and you get the picture. It was a privilege to end my trip by marching with ORAM International – an organisation dedicated to supporting LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees around the world. Our message was simple: “Safe haven for all.”

Senthorun Raj is a 2012 Churchill Fellow. Follow him @senthorun on Twitter.

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MrAsh said on the 14th Jul, 2013

Great article and photos Sethoran!


wysi said on the 14th Jul, 2013

I always liked NYC over SFO.


wysi said on the 14th Jul, 2013

I found it more diverse and more active GLBTI-wise. SFO is more like talking the talk. NYC is more like walking thw walk. If you get what I mean.

Little Gay Blog

Little Gay Blog said on the 19th Jul, 2013

I so, so, so want to go to NYC!....Great pics!