Credit: Nils Schlebusch
Pride is ingrained in the fabric of New York State. LGBTQ trailblazers from Marsha P. Johnson to Alice Austen to Alvin Ailey called the Empire State home while historic events like the first Pride day at any State Fair in the nation and significant sites like the Stonewall Inn and Julius Bar stand as important LGBTQ landmarks that you can still visit today. Members of the LGBTQ community continue to lead with Pride, making New York a welcoming place with inclusive experiences for all who visit. From a historic theater to one of the most beautiful natural spots in the world, here are some places to visit in New York run by amazing and inspiring LGBTQ leaders.
Gregory Henderson, owner, The Roxbury Experience (Catskills)
Credit: Nils Schlebusch
Looking to escape reality for a while? The Roxbury Experience is ready to transport you to a whole other world. “Imagine if Alice in Wonderland married Willy Wonka and they took up residence in Oz, that’s what we want The Roxbury Experience to feel like,” said owner Gregory Henderson. Twenty years ago, Henderson and his husband renovated 10 rooms of a small motel about 30 minutes from their cabin in the Catskills. Paying tribute to the motel era and the Catskills heyday, they created themed rooms inspired by TV shows, films, and cartoons from the 1960s and 70s. After years working in the theater industry, which included building set designs for the likes of “Saturday Night Live,” the business was a natural fit: provide guests with great hospitality and a true escape from reality.
Credit: Nils Schlebusch
Over the years, The Roxbury Experience has evolved into two properties boasting 43 luxurious and elaborately-designed themed fantasy rooms, suites, and cottages in varying sizes and price ranges. “We want you to feel that immediacy of emotion that seeing a great film or play can produce. Only instead of just watching the production, we want to provide you with the ability to be IN the production. To jump into the movie screen. To live the fantasy,” Henderson said. Guests can enjoy the amenities that both properties have to offer including two spas with hot tubs and saunas, a heated pool (open from May-October), and a trail system with observation decks around a beautiful 50 foot waterfall (where couples often exchange vows).
The Roxbury Experience prides itself on not only providing a sense of wonder, but a “safe haven” for travelers from all walks of life. “Just by being an openly gay couple in a long-term loving relationship – and to a certain extent showing and sharing our relationship with our guests and followers on social media – somehow informs people that we welcome all kinds of diversity,” Henderson said. “One of the most heartwarming moments happened just this year when a mother and father introduced their young son to us who was excited to show us how he had painted his fingernails our signature brand color of lime green. The father took us aside and thanked us for providing a place where his son could feel comfortable while he was on vacation.”
Angela Berti, marketing and public affairs coordinator, Niagara Falls State Park (Greater Niagara)
Millions of people come to New York each year to feel the rush and wonder of Niagara Falls. “Niagara Falls is a bucket list attraction and it is always my hope that people feel more than the idea they just checked a box,” said Angela Berti, who for 16 years has been the marketing and public affairs coordinator for Niagara Falls State Park. “We want people to feel like not only did they connect with nature, they experienced something special.” From the Maid of the Mist to the Cave of the Winds, there’s so many ways to be awed, amazed, and inspired by this global icon.
Photo Courtesy of Angela Berti
As America's oldest state park, Niagara Falls is rooted in history and was the backdrop to a pinnacle moment in LGBTQ history — hosting the first gay marriage in New York State. “It took place at 12:01 a.m. on July 24, 2011, the day same-sex marriage became legal in NYS,” Berti said. “Hundreds of people celebrated something that I honestly thought could never happen. Having a first row seat to so much history is truly humbling.” As for Berti’s own role in history: “I hope that I inspire others simply by being a good person. I am proud to be gay but I also like to show people that gay people are no different than anyone else. We do laundry, take out the garbage and just live our lives—while fighting to maintain rights that others take for granted.”
Atsushi Akera, general manager, Cafe Euphoria (Capital-Saratoga)
Photo Courtesy of Atsushi Akera
Cafe Euphoria was born amid the pandemic to create a safe space for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals while building a connection, not only with one another, but with members of the broader Troy community. The worker-owned cooperative is a coworking space, event space, political space, curated thrift store, and full service restaurant and cafe with progressive values and deep commitments to sustainability and food justice. “We’re a space meant for everyone,” said general manager Atsushi Akera. “We’re basically what’s called a ‘trans visibility project’ that brings greater safety to our community through our interactions and visibility within a wider community. That’s why we’re located in the middle of downtown Troy, complete with huge plate glass windows and an open industrial kitchen design that builds connection between those who work here and our customers; between ourselves and the residents of Troy and the Capital Region.”
Photo Courtesy of Atsushi Akera
While the cafe started as a side project, it quickly became all-consuming, prompting Akera to shift careers from her role as an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Given the current political moment, and the real needs of our community, I thought this was far more important than anything else I could accomplish being a faculty member at an academic institution,” she said. Guests can expect a warm welcome as they enter the cozy cafe and are introduced to their eclectic and inclusive menu offering vegan-vegetarian-pescatarian cuisine along with gluten-free and some meat-based comfort foods. You can also pair your dark roast coffee with one of the many baked goods made in house from chocolate chip-coconut muffins to lemon-lavender shortbread cookies with matcha glaze that’s both vegan and gluten free. Along with providing a wonderful dining experience, the cafe aims to bring people together. “The notion of trans visibility is based on the idea that people come to get to know transgender and gender non-conforming individuals as who we are–as regular people, with hopes, dreams, visions, and a commitment to making the world a better place,” Akera said.
Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, co-founders, Beekman 1802 (Central New York)
Credit: Ayesha Thomas
Goat milk and kindness. So begins the origin story of the world-famous beauty brand, Beekman 1802. On a fateful weekend away from their hectic city life, Dr. Brent Ridge and husband Josh Kilmer-Purcell stumbled upon the once bustling spa resort town of Sharon Springs. Lured in by its quiet small town charm, where Pride flags fly from houses across the rural county, the couple purchased the historic Beekman Farm and a letter from a neighboring farmer in need of a home for his 80 goats would set them on a course that would change their lives forever. “We took him and his goats in, and we say that was the first act of kindness that started our company,” the couple said. “Soon we were making goat milk soap and beauty products around our dining room table with our neighbors.”
Credit: Beekman 1802
The business blossomed. They got their own reality TV show. They won “The Amazing Race.” And they got married on their farm. Now, a visit to their flagship Kindness Shop nestled on a quaint winding road in the heart of Sharon Springs is “like a visit to the soul of the company.” You’ll be greeted with a “Hi, Neighbor” as you step inside to browse all of their products along with locally-sourced crafts and gourmet foods from artisans within the community. “Even though our company has grown into one of the largest skincare companies in America, we still feel like our main mission is to share the kindness that we first encountered when we two ‘city boys’ moved to Sharon Springs,” the couple said. “Everyone walks away feeling our kindness.” The farm is also open for tours and guests can enjoy special events throughout the year including Kindness Workshops.
J. Soto, director of engagement and inclusion, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art (New York City)
Photo Courtesy of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art traces its roots back to 1969, the year of the Stonewall Uprising. Located in SoHo, it’s the only dedicated LGBTQIA+ art museum in the world with a mission to exhibit and preserve LGBTQIA+ art and foster the artists who create it. “As a Latinx transgender man, for me it has been a beacon of LGBTQIA+ representation and joy through artistry,” said J. Soto, the museum’s director of engagement and inclusion. “The idea that there is a space – an entire museum that is dedicated to the vibrancy of our lives, our resistance, our grief, our joy, through the lens of art, is exhilarating to me every day.”
Credit: Jo Chiang
The museum experience begins out on the street as its windows serve as an exhibition space with its first AR project Oceanic Portal, a facade installation by micha cárdenas, Gerald Casel, Ian Costello, Cynthia Ling Lee, Susana Ruiz, and Huy Truong, currently on display. Guests can spend anywhere from a few minutes to hours viewing the works in the museum, currently exhibiting Coyote Park: I Love You Like Mirrors Do and Images on Which to Build. “I hope queer people of all ages come away feeling affirmed and buoyed just a little bit by the knowledge of us having always existed and witnessing our stories in the artwork,” Soto said. “I especially hope young queer and transgender people come away feeling that they are not alone, that museums are a space of respite– that this is their space. I hope that allies feel closer to their LGBTQIA+ neighbors, co-workers, and friends. In short, I hope everyone can feel the power of art to convey beauty, conviction, and a sense of belonging.” In addition to its mission of inclusivity, the museum places a focus on accessibility, providing a wheelchair lift at its entrance and donation-based admission making entry to the museum accessible to everyone, regardless of ability to pay.
Samuel BuggeIn, artistic director, The Cherry Arts (Finger Lakes)
Photo Courtesy of The Cherry Arts
Nestled along the banks of the Cayuga Inlet in Ithaca is The Cherry Arts, a performing and visual arts hub that challenges and exposes audiences to fresh and innovative works by local and international artists. Started in 2014 by artistic director Samuel BuggeIn, The Cherry Arts has since expanded into three spaces that celebrate art in all of its forms. “For many years I was working as a freelance theater director based in NYC, while my partner Nick taught at Cornell in Ithaca,” he said. “At a certain point it felt like the right time to build something lasting, and to really invest in an ongoing artistic conversation with one community. And to be able to live full-time with my husband, of course!”
Photo Courtesy of Samuel BuggeIn
The performing arts venue, located at 102 Cherry Street, is a flexible space that showcases theater, dance, music, puppetry, opera, burlesque, and more. “No matter what folks catch at the Cherry, I hope they come away feeling stretched and stimulated a bit, introduced to a new idea about a way that art can make us think and engage with the world,” BuggeIn said. Across the street, guests will find The Cherry Arts’ gallery and studio housed in Ithaca Arthaus, a new development boasting 123 affordable and supportive homes. “So you can come see a great art exhibition in the Cherry Gallery and then stroll next door to catch a live performance in some cool form you may not have seen at the performance space next door. And maybe there's a class in the studio,” BuggeIn said. “I hope the work my company presents inspires audiences to stretch their horizons and understand things more complexly, and feel things more deeply.”
Jesse Cameron Alick, associate artistic director, Vineyard Theatre (New York City)
It’s no secret that New York City is home to the best theatrical productions in the world, and it’s not just limited to Broadway. Right off Union Square, you’ll find the Vineyard Theatre, a boutique theater that has been producing boundary-breaking productions for four decades. “It’s a 160 seat house, which means that even the biggest theatrical experience will feel warm and intimate,” said associate artistic director Jesse Cameron Alick. “We make work about the world that is happening outside our doors today, so expect art that makes you think, and art that makes you look at the world bravely.”
Photo Courtesy of Jesse Cameron Alick
Alick joined the Vineyard Theatre two years ago, marking a new chapter in his 20-year theater career. “I’ve always loved the Vineyard Theatre and during the pandemic I spent a lot of time thinking about what I can do to help the theater industry and where I can have the most impact,” he said. “It felt like the right move to move to a smaller theater where I can have direct influence on the art we make every single day.” Now, he strives to inspire artists and institutions to grow and innovate while challenging audiences to think differently about the many forms and expressions theater can take. “Last year we produced Lessons in Survival: 1971, conceived and directed by Tyler Thomas and The Commissary, which recreated the iconic conversation between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni about art, writing, culture and the Black experience,” Alick said. “It was a completely moving and beautiful show about two Black queer artists. The way the project reached into history and brought it to our present day was so life giving. I was so proud to work so closely on it.”
Amanda Amico, general manager, Swan Street Diner (Greater Niagara)
Credit: Drew Brown/Visit Buffalo Niagara
A visit to the Swan Street Diner in Buffalo is like stepping back in time. General Manager Amanda Amico and her team have created a warm and welcoming space to fuel up on quality, scratch-made breakfast and lunch fare in this fully restored 1937 Sterling diner car with mahogany trim, barrel vaulted ceiling, porcelain paneling, and original cushioned red counter stools. “I jumped into this project head first and we created something pretty special,” said Amico, who was born and raised in the Queen City and learned the ropes at another Buffalo staple diner, Amy’s Place. “We pour our heart and soul into the food we make.”
Credit: Nancy J. Parisi/Visit Buffalo Niagara
Located near Larkin Square, a popular spot for free and fun public events, if there’s a wait at the diner, it’ll be well worth it. “You can expect to be showered with coffee and water (figuratively of course) and the best brunch food this city has to offer,” Amico said. “From your standard two eggs, home fries, and toast, to homemade corned beef hash, to placek French toast, to scratch sausage gravy, to breakfast tacos and burritos, to DIY omelettes, to fluffy pancakes, to the best Hollandaise you will have in your life!” The inviting atmosphere doesn’t just extend to guests, but to its staff as well, hiring all orientations and being 100 percent inclusive. “If you work hard and be yourself, you can do anything. I didn’t get a lot of support when I first came out,” Amico said. “I quickly found community and support though, and eventually support from my family. I am now happily married, with three beautiful children, running a successful business [and being] respected by people not only in the LGBTQ+ community, but the business community as well.”
Joshua Bernard, co-founder, LUMA Projection Arts Festival (Central New York)
When life brought Joshua Bernard, co-founder of LUMA Projection Arts Festival, to Binghamton, the city was in the midst of a transformation. “We quickly realized that for people outside the region to understand that Binghamton was transforming, we needed a symbol,” Bernard said. With that, LUMA was born. The world-class arts festival celebrating the intersection of art, technology, and storytelling uses projection mapping to turn the city’s infrastructure into a massive canvas. “Visiting LUMA is like wandering through some enormous outdoor art gallery,” Bernard said. “We have artists create totally bespoke animated stories that lay on top of historical building facades. When it’s done right you can create an optical illusion that the building itself is physically transforming in impossible ways.”
Photo Courtesy of Joshua Bernard
The annual immersive art installation, happening September 8-9, inspires creativity and a sense of wonder while using technology to build human connection. “LUMA is art that’s meant to be experienced as part of a community and hopefully help rebuild some common cultural vocabulary,” Bernard said. Growing up just a PATH train ride away from some of the best museums in the world in New York City, Bernard wanted to bring art to those who don’t have the same access. “I hear from a lot of local parents who talk about the first time they take their kids to LUMA and how their eyes light up,” he said. “To see high-caliber work created by artists from all over the globe in their own backyard–and to see those artists from Madrid or Jakarta wandering the streets of their hometown–it makes the arts real and accessible and vital in a way I didn’t appreciate.” On the topic of Pride Month, Bernard lists Binghamton Pride as a favorite event, but also enjoys Pride weekends in New York City that for him aren’t complete without a late-night stop at Marie’s Crisis Cafe.
Kyle West, executive and artistic director, Fort Salem Theater (Capital-Saratoga)
Photo Courtesy of Kyle West
In the picturesque town of Salem stands the Fort Salem Theater, a performing arts space that’s as rich in history as it is art. Originally built in 1774 as Salem’s first Presbyterian Church, it served as a fort in the Revolutionary War before suffering three fires, later reemerging as a house of worship before a judge and part-time thespian untapped its potential as a premier stage in 1972. “When guests arrive at Fort Salem Theater, they’ll instantly feel the history and heartbeat of the 250 years of memories this building holds,” said executive and artistic director Kyle West, who ushered in the theater’s new chapter. After working behind the scenes in theater for two decades, West made the move to create something of his own, purchasing the theater and settling in Salem with his husband, who left his corporate job of 17 years to support West’s vision.
Photo Courtesy of Kyle West
Standing near the corner of Broadway and Main Street in Salem’s National Historic District, the newly-renovated theater, with seats donated by Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater, produces nearly a dozen plays, musicals, and new works annually while also hosting tribute bands, youth productions, touring musicians, and sold-out drag shows. With a new show opening every four to six weeks, guests can expect a fresh experience every time they visit the 200-seat proscenium stage theater, whether they’re catching a quiet, intimate play or cheerful, larger-than-life musical with two-story tall scenery. “We are a space where people of all ages and walks of life get to explore who they are and, often, learn who they want to be,” West said. “My opportunity to be an out, gay leader in our rural community is also not lost on me. I feel privileged to be an example to younger artists and future queer business leaders alike and really value the chance to lead by example.” The theater also gives back to the community, partnering with the local Lunch, Learn and Play program to host a no-cost performing arts camp for teens who spend five weeks training with professionals and building a mainstage show which they perform for the public at the end of the summer program.