One year after the Stonewall Rebellion, on June 28th 1970, the Gay Activists Alliance hosted a successful dance in the basement of Weinstein Hall, a New York University residence building located on West 11th Street. At this time, Greenwich Village was home to the largest gay, lesbian and transgender community in the world, and was in dire need of social services, as well as spaces to host public gatherings. The Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee (CSLDC), organizers of the Stonewall Parade, decided to coordinate a series of four additional dances, to be held at Weinstein Hall as fundraisers for legal, medical and housing services for the gay community. The “Dance-a-Fairs” were booked with the Weinstein Hall Student Governing Association for the Friday evenings between August 7th and September 4th 1970.
The first two Dance-a-Fairs were held successfully, and without comment from the NYU administration. However, on the eve the third dance, to be held on August 21st, the NYU administration and trustees announced that the remaining two dances would be cancelled, and that the student government of Weinstein Hall did not have the authority to negotiate with non-university organizations. With the help of a New York Civil Liberties lawyer, the NYU administration was convinced to allow the third dance to proceed. The CSLDC secured the sponsorship of an NYU student group, Gay Student Liberation, for the final dance on August 28th. However, as the fall semester approached, the NYU administration closed all university facilities to gay social functions until a panel of ministers and psychologists determined whether homosexuality was “morally acceptable.” The administration was particularly concerned about the impact of gay dances on impressionable freshmen.
The evening of August 28th witnessed a small but angry demonstration outside Weinstein Hall. City police were called, and a group of representatives from the gay community went to meet with NYU Dean Harold Whiteman. Gay Flame described the event:
We told him it was Weinstein Hall or stormy weather. He looked at us and he knew we meant it. We weren’t hiding in our closets and we had a foot wedged in his. So, after a little while, he gave in and said we’d have it. We ran back over and told the people who were still marching the news. Another win for GAY POWER. We had met the enemy and the hall is ours!
The remaining protesters entered the hall for a small dance party that evening, but the ban on gay social functions at the university remained in place.
Three weeks later, a meeting of the NYU group Gay Student Liberation decided to call for an immediate occupation of Weinstein Hall, in response to the administration’s discriminatory conduct toward gay, lesbian and transgender functions on campus. A liaison was sent to a Gay Liberation Front meeting to request additional volunteers. Within hours there were almost 70 people in the cavernous hall, including transgender activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. The five-day event was an open occupation, and activists came and went from the hall, meeting with students from the residence building, flyering the university and holding public teach-ins on gay liberation. Student representatives met and voted to support the strike, providing blankets for the occupiers as the administration attempted to freeze them out by turning up the air-conditioning in the hall. Two days later, a mass meeting of students and occupiers decided to organize a dance in Weinstein Hall for the evening of Friday, September 25th.
At 2:30pm on the afternoon of the dance, NYU administration called New York City’s Tactical Police Squad. With all doors to the hall barricaded except one, riot police gave the occupiers ten seconds to vacate the hall, in what was described “as the most frightening, naked display of antihomosexual power” that had ever been seen. Sylvia Rivera refused to leave, and was carried out by police. NYU’s homophobic policies and the violent actions of the city police led to a series of demonstrations against the university, beginning that evening in Greenwich Village. Further demonstrations were held at NYU’s Bellevue Hospital, which practiced shock therapy treatment on homosexual psychiatry patients and at the NYU Student Center, where protesters presented the university with a list of demands. Included in the demands were: the use of university facilities by the gay community, open admissions and free tuition for gay people and all other oppressed communities, the discussion of homosexuality in relevant courses and the end of oppressive treatment of gay patients at Bellevue Hospital.
The occupation of Weinstein Hall was primarily led by transgender people of color and women. Emerging from the occupation was the formation of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. STAR focused on the needs of homeless transgender sex workers; providing shelter, food and legal support. STAR also worked to combat discrimination within the gay community.
The sit-in at Weinstein Hall by gay, lesbian and transgender activists and their allies is one in a long history of occupation in New York City in pursuit of social and economic justice.
 Teal, Donn. The Gay Militants (New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1971), 205.
 Murphey, John. Homosexual Liberation: A Personal View (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 123.
Bell, Arthur. Dancing the Gay Lib Blues: A Year in the Homosexual Liberation Movement. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971.
Duberman, Martin. Stonewall. New York: Penguin Group, 1993.
Murphey, John. Homosexual Liberation: A Personal View. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.
Out History. “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.” http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Street_Transvestite_Action_Revolutionaries. Accessed December 10, 2011.
Teal, Donn. The Gay Militants. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1971.
For more information about STAR please see:
Cohen, Steven L. Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail. Florence, Kentucky: Routledge, 2007.