Civil rights progress for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans was slow and difficult, often filled with homophobic violence and a blunt denial of rights resulting in job dismissals, refusals by landlords to offer housing and prohibitions blocking partners from visiting each other in hospitals. While the work had quietly begun in the mid-20th century, the light of day began to emerge after the notable Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969, when a group of young female impersonators and others, tired of police attacking them during staged raids at the Stonewall Bar in Greenwich Village, fought back. A standoff ensured for several days. In the aftermath, the gay liberation movement was born and eventually Pride Parades sprung up around the country near the anniversary of Stonewall, celebrating the gay community in general and seeking greater progress.
But the progress became short lived when AIDS struck the gay community with a vengeance in June 1981. Politicians, policy makers and some advocates ran for cover, distancing themselves from the gay community. Some politicians even talked about quarantining gay people. Ronald Reagan only mentioned AIDS publicly years after the disease had ravaged the gay community. Many hospitals wouldn’t treat infected patients and some would abruptly release them when their health status was revealed. One Boston nurse carried the names of AIDS patients home with her to prevent them from being discovered during hospitalization. The safety of gay people living with AIDS was at risk in many communities. Nearly 700,000 people died over a 20-year period. And while the federal government offered little to no support, advocacy groups from around the country stepped up, providing food, health services and other support and building a stronger backbone of courage for the gay community.
Offering a historic vernacular collection of 82 4 x 6 color photographs from one or more New York City Gay Pride Parades that document much of the struggle with images of many organizations and people that performed noble work during the 1980s and 1990s. One poignant photograph is that of a Pride marchers displaying the a sign with the title of Sister Sledge’s 1979 song “We Are Family!,” a mantra the gay community adopted as a means of uniting support and survival when society had dismissed gay people and many religionists announced that AIDS was God’s punishment.
Other photographs carry forward the theme of help that emerged during the highly volatile period, including, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), an international grassroots group working to improve the lives of people living with AIDS through direct action, medical research and legislation. ACT UP participants were masterful in their use of media, protesting on Wall Street and in front of pharmaceutical companies that limited the number of participants in drug trials; God’s Love We Deliver, which delivered home cooked meals to people too sick to shop or cook for themselves; SALGA (South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association of New York City); one sign reads that “5 AIDS death every day in New York City.” At one point, the number of infections was so great that AIDS Action Committee’s buddy program through which a volunteer would “buddy up,” visit and help a person living with AIDS, began adding multiple people for one buddy to work with; the Gay Officers Action League of New York City, which began in 1982 to provide gay members with a safe space to explore their problems. It was the first such organization in the nation; the Lavender Light Gospel Choir, founded in 1985, was devoted to providing a supportive environment to lesbian and gay people with a special ministry for them; Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a group founded in 1981 when reports first surfaced that gay men were coming down with a rare form of cancer and people were struggling to determine the cause; The Audre Lorde Project, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming, People of Color Center, committed to struggling across differences; a man carrying a sign with a list of names, apparently friends who had died from AIDS; Latino Gay Men of New York; many others.
Photographs are in excellent condition and provide a wonderful historic narrative of the LGBTQ struggle that started in the 1980s with AIDS and continued through much of the 1990s.
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