Illustration by Ellice Weaver
Learning our own stories empowers us. When I saw a need to share LGBTQ history, I created my own walking tour to share with the world.
By Michael Venturiello ’13
If you look on the homepage of SUNY Geneseo’s website, you will see an enticing message: “Discover why there’s no place like Geneseo.” As a proud alumnus of 2013, I can understand the rationale for that statement. There truly is no place like Geneseo. Or, in the words of queer icon Judy Garland, “There’s no place like home.”
For me, Geneseo was the first place I experienced a feeling of home. It was the first place that I felt comfortable living my authentic self. It provided a place of community and a greater sense of belonging, and ultimately, it provided me a brave space to come out as gay.
The process of coming out is complicated, with challenges that I hope the next generation never has to endure. However, at Geneseo, it seemed easy. I found a community at Geneseo — my chosen family — the ones who supported me and uplifted me when I needed it the most.
Recently, I proudly returned to Geneseo for Student Life’s All-College Hour Speaker Series to talk about an organization that I founded in June 2018, Christopher Street Tours. It is an LGBTQ-owned, New York Citybased organization that gives LGBTQ walking tours of New York.
Our mission at Christopher Street Tours is to share stories and uplift voices from those who paved the way before us. We do this by visiting historic LGBTQ sites. We also believe strongly in access to this history, offering free tours to LGBTQ youth. To this day, the majority of states don’t require the K-12 curriculum to teach LGBTQ history. On the tour, LGBTQ youth learn about their own history and see themselves represented in it, often for the first time.
When I first moved to New York, I wanted to be a writer. The impetus for Christopher Street Tours began as a novel about the Stonewall Uprising — the 1969 riots that occurred on Christopher Street at the Stonewall Inn, otherwise known as “the Birthplace of the Modern Gay Rights Movement.” I came to the city wanting to learn more about LGBTQ history, but I was shocked to discover that LGBTQ history tours were expensive and only offered during Pride Month.
Knowing the importance of this history, I knew I needed to create something. If I was looking for this, I knew others would be, too. With that, I created the first version of my Greenwich Village Pride Walking Tour. I was afraid no one would show up. I had no idea how to operate a business, let alone a walking tour company in New York City. But the idea persisted. Sharing these stories became an important part of my life, and I knew I wanted to share this information with others.
Since then, I’ve given hundreds of tours to thousands of people from all over the world. The stories that I share on tour are from unknown activists — the queer folks who remain nameless yet have created a legacy in the world: the bisexual woman who led the first Pride March, the gay man who spearheaded accessible and affordable treatment for HIV/AIDS, the trans woman who was brave enough to raise her fist in the air at the Stonewall Uprising despite fear of arrest. These individuals left a legacy on the world, and if I’ve learned anything from LGBTQ history, it’s that individual people do have the power to make a difference.
Giving tours is about so much more than sharing history. LGBTQ history is American history. It’s global history. History empowers us, it teaches us, it inspiresus. In learning this history, people can see that they are not alone, but rather, that there is an entire generation of people who are supporting them.
LGBTQ history shows us that we all have the power to create positive social change in our own communities. We each have the ability to make a difference, to be part of history, and ultimately, to change the world. I’ve found that there’s no place better to leave your mark, to make you than the place that we grow to call home.
Michael Venturiello ’13 is a New York City historian, writer and educator. He is the founder of Christopher Street Tours, an LGBTQowned and operated walking tour company that focuses solely on LGBTQ history.