Stonewall 40: NYC Tourism Board Pushes for Visitors to Mark Gay Rights Anniversary

by Steve Weinstein

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday April 13, 2009

At a press conference in which she introduced herself and fellow New York City Councilmember Rosie Mendez as the council's "entire lesbian caucus," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joined the head of the city's tourism bureau to unveil a huge marketing campaign aimed at LGBT tourists.

The "Rainbow Pilgrimage," as it's been dubbed, is the quasi-city agency's first major push directly aimed at the gay market. The city is following major ongoing campaigns form peer bureaus in cities like San Francisco, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Miami. But if the city is playing catch-up, it has an ace in its hand: As the site of the birth of the modern gay-rights movement, New York has always had pride of place during Gay Pride.

Now, the city is taking that honor and leveraging it by pushing hard for the June celebration of the 40th anniversary of the four nights of street fighting in and in front of the Stonewall Bar in Greenwich Village--an event now universally accepted by historians as marking the birth of the gay-rights movement worldwide.

If Stonewall is our Bastille, then Gay Pride is our July 14. Every year since that first outburst in 1969, there has been a march. In the intervening years, many other events have arisen around the giant march, including dance parties, a rally, street fair and awards banquets.

The last time the city marked an anniversary with this much fanfare was Stonewall 25 in 1994, which coincided with the city's hosting of the Gay Games. There's no such tie-in this year, but that hasn't stopped NYC & Company, the tourism board's official name, from pulling out the stops.

"New York City is an iconic destination for the gay and lesbian visitor," said George Fertitta, who heads NYC & Company. "We are eager to invite and welcome even more gay travelers to visit New york City in 2009--not only to celebrate the historical significance of the Stonewall Riots anniversary, but also to take in all the energy, beauty and vibrancy our great city has to offer."

Translation: Come and spend money. With the city's hotel vacancy rising, and tourism tapering off after a phenomenal run during the economic boom, NYC & Company has apparently realized that gay tourists--relatively unencumbered by family obligations and with plenty of disposable income, even in the current recession--represents a potentially lucrative market.

Quinn put it succinctly at the press conference: "We want you to come--and to spend money!"

She also emphasized the city's central place in gay history. "New York city is the birthplace of the gay rights movement," she said. "There's even more reason to come celebrate the history of the LGBT community."

NYC & Company is partnering with Travelocity on special deals. It has earmarked $2 million for advertising in print, online and other gay media that Fertitta estimates will result in 300 million impressions. Digital banners will cover key markets like the United Kingdom, Canada and the rest of the United States, asking travelers to "Join the Rainbow Pilgrimage and Plan Your Journey." Outdoor ads will blanket the U.K. and Spain.

NYC & Company also announced a "microsite" with original editorial content and a calendar of events. The site also features a 30-minute documentary, "Out in the City" that celebrates New York's diverse LGBT communities and history. It premiered on the Logo cable network and will appear again there in early May.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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