Riots at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village revolutionized the lives of gay New Yorkers, paving the way for people to come out and be proud. But in the years before the 1969 riots, secrecy shaped the lives of many people in the LGBT community.
The nuances of that time and place are documented in the new exhibition, "Hooray for Gay: Pre-Stonewall Images from the Collection of Harry Weintraub," at the Boo-Hooray gallery, 265 Canal St., in Manhattan. The exhibition, presented with Cornell University Library, runs March 30 through April 8, 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily.
The exhibition includes one-of-a-kind items from the Weintraub collection, such as romantic photographs of male couples, pornography from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, erotic images of military men, vintage physique magazines, photographs of drag queens and applications from men seeking jobs as porn models. It also features interesting items on "criminality" related to gay men, such as notices of runaway boys and mug shots for so-called "gay crimes."
"In the pre-Stonewall era, gay men's lives revolved around decisions to put on and take off masks, when to guard or reveal their desires and selves," said Brenda Marston, curator of the library's Human Sexuality Collection. "In going through this vast array of photographs, images of men with their faces concealed stood out. When you go through the exhibit, look for the faces: Many are looking away or masked, some are looking right at us. A complex and rich gay culture was hidden in plain sight."
The Harry H. Weintraub Collection of Gay-Related Photography and Historical Documentation is part of the Human Sexuality Collection, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with events in New York City and Ithaca. The show is curated by Marston, Cornell Library board member and Boo-Hooray owner Johan Kugelberg, music journalist Jon Savage, and Harry Weintraub.
Weintraub, a New York City labor lawyer, took more than three decades to amass the collection's 20,000 gay-themed photographs and print items. Some date to the 1860s, and they range from formal 19th-century portraits to candid snapshots and Hollywood stars' studio portraits.
The exhibition is made possible by Kugelberg, who founded the Cornell hip-hop archive in 2007 and provided the core materials for the Cornell punk archive. He runs the Boo-Hooray project space, which specializes in archiving 20th century counter-culture. He has taught and lectured on this subject at Cornell, Yale and University of Virginia, and has created archives for Cornell, Yale and Oxford University.
Gwen Glazer is the staff writer/editor for Cornell University Library.