New York Public Library Goes Gay
BY Michael Rowe
June 16 2009 12:00 AM ET
If a picture is really worth a thousand words, the New York Public Library's powerful exhibit, "1969: The Year of Gay Liberation," is the essence of our history as LGBT Americans, condensed into indelible words and images. For veterans of the early gay rights struggle, the images will carry more than a hint of nostalgia and bittersweet memories. For younger generations, the exhibit renders vivid a rich heritage that many of them may not realize is their birthright.
On June 28, 1969 -- at a time when homosexuality was considered a grave mental illness at best, and a serious crime at worst -- a group of drag queens and their friends did something unthinkable: When they were rounded up at the Greenwich Village gay bar the Stonewall Inn by a police force accustomed to submissive compliance from the city's beleaguered LGBT population, they fought back. The full-scale riot that ensued that night marked the beginning of what has come to be known as the gay rights movement, unifying and radicalizing the various factions of the LGBT community like nothing else could have.
Many of the photographs featured in the exhibit were taken by activist Diana Davies, who captures events such as a march by the Gay Liberation Front in Times Square and protests by gay NYU students for equal rights. Among the literally irreplaceable artifacts on display are original police reports, pamphlets, newspapers, and letters.
"This exhibition charts a historic and pivotal moment in history for gays and lesbians that goes beyond New York City," says Jason Baumann, curator and coordinator of collection assessment and LGBT collections at the New York Public Library. "The year 1969 marks the first time homosexuals united, demanded, and were willing to fight for full inclusion within American society. As a result of the actions taken during this time gays and lesbians marked a paradigmatic shift in the ways that not only they saw themselves but also how the world would see them."