7. Craig Rodwell
Born in Chicago in 1940, Craig Rodwell knew he was gay from a young age. After hearing about the gay rights group, the Mattachine Society, he moved to New York City in 1958 to pursue involvement in the group. As a prominent figure in early gay and lesbian demonstrations, Rodwell’s main focus was on activism, which left him little time to support himself; he took odd jobs here and there to survive. By organizing the “sip-in,” — modeled after the lunch sit-ins of the Civil Rights Movement at places that segregated black customers — he was able to aid in the movement to overturn the court case that allowed bars to refuse service to gay people.
Rodwell’s biggest accomplishment was the creation of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, the first gay and lesbian bookstore. He launched the endeavor in 1967, and named it after author Oscar Wilde, who was known for having a slew of gay lovers in addition to referencing gay subjects in his writing. The original bookstore was opened on Mercer Street where it stayed until 1973, when Craig moved the store to Christopher Street and renamed it the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. In addition to holding books, the store also served as a space for meetings and offices for the gay community.
He originally pitched the idea as a Mattachine Society endeavor, but his idea was shot down. Not one to give up easily, Rodwell opened the store on his own. Also on Christopher Street, Rodwell offered up the store and his apartment to hold planning meetings for the first Pride March in the city, which was originally called “The Christopher Street Liberation Day March.” The twenty-fourth anniversary of his death is coming up on June 18th.