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July 16, 2019

Celebrating love: new exhibit shows history of battles for LGBTQ love and liberation, 50 years after Stonewall

February 10, 2019
Jason Baumann, curator of “Love and Resistance: Stonewall 50” at the New York Public Library’s main Fifth Ave. branch. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)

Love is love.

The story and struggle of the gay rights movement — from the pivotal Stonewall riots to the 21st century — will go on display to the public on the holiday that, fittingly, celebrates love.

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“Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50”, a special exhibit at the New York Public Library’s main Fifth Ave. branch opening on Valentine’s Day, features images and artifacts from both before and after Stonewall.

Among the treasures on display is a photo of a small 1965 march on the Pentagon that shows lesbian Lilli Vincenz holding a sign that reads, “100,000 homosexual soldiers demand review of army policy.” She was one of only a dozen who dared to picket.

At this 1965 march at the Pentagon, Lilli Vincenz holds a sign reading "100,000 homosexual soldiers demand review of army policy."
At this 1965 march at the Pentagon, Lilli Vincenz holds a sign reading “100,000 homosexual soldiers demand review of army policy.” (Kay Tobin Lahusen)

In just four years, that would change.

On a steamy June night in 1969, the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher St. and got more than they bargained for.

The bar was a frequent target for the police, and as the Daily News reported at the time, there were suspicions the mob-connected owners made regular payoffs to the cops.

But on that evening, the patrons fought back. They refused to be searched. They refused to show identification. They refused to go quietly just because they were dressed in drag.

“This whole issue of gay people’s rights to nightlife, it was a political issue in New York at the time,” Jason Baumann, the exhibit’s curator explained. “It was illegal to serve a drink to a known gay person in a bar. And also it was illegal to wear clothing that wasn’t in line with your legally assigned gender, so you could be arrested for cross-dressing.”

Fed up, the people revolted. Glasses and beer cans flew through the air. The melee spilled out into Christopher St., lasted for hours and picked up again in the nights that followed.

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“We’ve had all we can take from the Gestapo,” a woman told The News after the riot.

The Gay Liberation Front, formed in the wake of the Stonewall Riots, marches on Times Square in 1969.
The Gay Liberation Front, formed in the wake of the Stonewall Riots, marches on Times Square in 1969. (Diana Davies)

After the Stonewall uprising, the Mattachine Society — founded in 1950 and one of the first LGBTQ organizations in the U.S. — released a flyer to lure those affected by the riots to get involved in LGBTQ activism.

Two groups were spawned, the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance, both more progressive than the more conservative Mattachine Society.

Police raid the Stonewall Inn nightclub in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969. The raid led to riots and protests by the gay community.
Police raid the Stonewall Inn nightclub in Greenwich Village on June 28, 1969. The raid led to riots and protests by the gay community. (New York Daily News)

“A lot of these younger people came from the peace movement, came from the anti-war movement, from other civil rights movements, from the feminist movement and couldn’t be contained in that kind of structure that Mattachine had before,” Baumann said.

Activists also ditched their buttoned-up look after Stonewall, wearing whatever suited them. A man in one photo taken by Diana Davies, one of two photographers whose works are featured prominently in the exhibit, sports a “Gay Revolution” T-shirt. It’s believed to be associated with Third World Gay Revolution.

“People from Gay Liberation Front who wanted to focus on the oppression faced by queer people of color,” Baumann explained.

After the Stonewall Riots, activists shed the conservative uniforms of 1960s protests to express their own identities, like this man in a "Gay Revolution" shirt in 1971.
After the Stonewall Riots, activists shed the conservative uniforms of 1960s protests to express their own identities, like this man in a “Gay Revolution” shirt in 1971. (Diana Davies)

The exhibit, which stretches along a third floor hallway in the library, is separated into four sections: Resistance, Bars, In Print and Love.

The In Print area shows how magazine covers marketed to the LGBTQ community got more bold and provocative over the years. The 1950s and ‘60s era Grecian Guild mag portrayed shirtless guys in god-like neoclassical poses that seem mild next to later S&M themed glossies that emerged in the ‘70s like Drummer and Straight to Hell.

The Love section of the showcase includes a shot of Michael McConnell and Jack Baker, who became the first same-sex couple to marry. The pair wed in 1971 in Minnesota, because Baker changed his name to a gender-neutral Pat Lyn McConnell. The picture was captured by Kay Tobin Lahusen, the other photographer whose work appears throughout the exhibit.

Michael McConnell (left) and Jack Baker, seen here in 1970, are believed to be the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license and marry in 1971.
Michael McConnell (left) and Jack Baker, seen here in 1970, are believed to be the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license and marry in 1971. (Kay Tobin Lahusen)

McConnell and Baker were still a couple in 2015 when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

The library free exhibit, which runs until July 14, is hosting a $15 21-and-over event Friday from 7 to 10 p.m.

Alan Miller of London, England looks at photos at the "Love and Resistance: Stonewall 50" exhibit.
Alan Miller of London, England looks at photos at the “Love and Resistance: Stonewall 50” exhibit. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)
Marcher in Albany in 1971 carrying a "Lesbians for Equal Employment Rights" sign.
Marcher in Albany in 1971 carrying a “Lesbians for Equal Employment Rights” sign. (Diana Davies)

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