Queer Histories & Queer Futures

03 August, 2017

Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown’s collection of more than 75,000 queer images @LGBT_History has become a personal obsession and a public archive documenting unseen queer history and its impact on culture. Here, they share some of their favorite images, and their perspective about what makes queer history so important to document, especially right now.

ON PROTESTS

Castro Street Fair, San Francisco, California, 1979. Photo © Jean-Baptiste Carhaix.

“It doesn’t have to be historic to be history: it's all history to us. It can be an everyday event. This is as much of an act of resistance as any protest picture.” — Leighton

Bernard Perlin & Wilbur Pippin, Fire Island, New York, 1948.

“Queer history is the history of protests. Now, it's a hashtag. It's a t-shirt. Our existence is resistance.” — Leighton

Marsha P. Johnson and unknown, Christopher Street Liberation Day, New York City, June 27, 1976. Photo © Kim Peterson.

“We're never going to be the normies. We're always going to be different. Whether you're talking about the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis outside the White House, Gays Against Guns… or two people in a photo booth in that one intimate moment they got to have in 1945. That's resistance. That's saying “fuck you" to all the people trying to tell them otherwise.” — Matthew

ACT UP at Trump Tower (Halloween 1989). Photo © Lee Snider.

“There's an amazing story about Ronny Viggiani as Dorothy. They had stormed into Trump Tower’s gaudy, ostentatious, ridiculous atrium. They were running away from the cops on the escalator. To slow them down, the cops shut off the escalator. Everyone keeps running, except for Dorothy. They're yelling at Dorothy. Dorothy yells back, "I can't run down an escalator in heels." They had to turn the escalator back on and Dorothy just floated across the atrium. Every single picture has a story like that. We just cannot get enough of figuring those stories out.” — Matthew

ON SIGNS

March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, October 14, 1979. Photo by Ted Sahl, © San Jose State University.

“Charles Francis, head of the DC Mattachine, was carrying one of Frank Kameny's original signs from 1965 at DC Pride that day. It was really remarkable. I was so nervous when he allowed us to hold it. I felt like I was holding the Dead Sea Scrolls.” — Matthew

Heritage of Pride Parade, New York City, June 24, 1990. Photo © Robert Fisch.

“Of the 3,000+ pictures we've posted, this is far and away our favorite. Right after Pulse, just like a lot of the queer community, we had no idea what to do. We put this up, and it got something like 7,000 likes. It was a sea change for the account. We realized we had a role to play: that people took comfort, and took strength, and took power from seeing people that came before say, ‘you can hate us as much as you want, but you will respect us.’" — Matthew (Robert Fisch, the photographer, was in the crowd that night.)

Gran Fury, 1987.

There's a great sign: "I'm anti-war, but pro-trans." An attack on any gender or sexual outlaw is an attack on every single person.” — Matthew

ON SPACES

“As queer people, we convene around spaces. We convene around bars. We convene around our subcultures.” — Leighton

Eldorado Nightclub, Berlin, Germany, 1929.

ON SUBCULTURES

Studio 54, New York City, 1980. Photo by Sonia Moskowitz, © Getty Images.

“I’m constantly explaining to straight people that gay culture isn’t a thing. We’re cultures and subcultures and sub-subcultures. Bi people, queer people, bears and BDSM daddies and radical fairies…” — Leighton

Christopher Street West Parade, Los Angeles, California, July 2, 1978. Photo by Pat Rocco, © ONE Archives at USC.

“Right now the expectation we’re subject to is white, cis, heteronormative men. They don’t speak for the queer community any more than Dykes on Bikes. We want to return to a focus on subgroups and sub communities.” — Matthew

Peg’s Place Bar, San Francisco, California, September 17, 1987. Photo © Dan Nicoletta.
The Cockettes, San Francisco, California, 1972. Photo © Clay Geerdes.

ON ERASURE

The Cockettes, San Francisco, California, 1972. Photo © Clay Geerdes.

“We’re disconnected in part because of the virus, in part because we've been denied. For a number of reason, we haven't seen these images. That trip to Fire Island in 1984 with a bunch of your friends in drag is history: queer people enjoying themselves freely and openly at a time when it wasn't possible.” — Matthew

“People put up pictures privately and don't think they’re worth sharing. What we do is inundate people with it, and it resonates.” — Matthew

The Compton Café, site of one of many unreported queer riots, this one in 1966, three years before Stonewall.

“We don't know the extent of our history and every day that passes we lose an opportunity to figure it out. We need to engage people in the act of figuring out queer history.” — Matthew

“There was a real liberation going on in the late ’20s and early ’30s and into the hard grip of the Nazi regime. They literally destroyed queer people, but also the culture and a lot of the history from those few years.” — Leighton

Newsweek, July 17, 1995.

“This is one of the most controversial posts that we put up.” — Matthew

“Erasure is our entire feel. Queer history is two-fold: the liberation movement, but also just figuring out who was queer throughout history. And there's plenty of erasure there, too.” — Matthew

“There’s an entire lobby of academic work built on refuting the notion that queers existed. Period. Go ahead and try to talk to someone about Abraham Lincoln being gay. The notion that he was gay, it is antithetical. Eleanor Roosevelt was a lesbian. The fact that we start at a deficit in every conversation, because we have to spend time convincing people about facts, is absolutely nauseating.” — Matthew

“It’s also the absence of facts. There's this presumption that’s a very high bar. If there’s no definitive proof that somebody's gay, they're not. That's just not true.” — Matthew

“I'm not sure if I'm willing to say definitively Lincoln was gay. I am willing to fight anybody who says definitively that he was not. That's really what we're fighting, because we may never know 100% when you're talking about somebody who died over 150 years ago now.” — Leighton

“We are constantly fighting a battle of nonexistence. We’re reclaiming our time.” — Matthew

Allison Hanna, U.S. Navy, 2016. Photo by Cassidy DuHon, © Here Media.

“Just look at the resolve. There are currently 12,000-16,000 active trans service members in the United States (many more than reported). Trans people are statistically more likely to have served in the military than the rest of the population (21% vs. 11% of the general population). She existed when the picture was taken in 2014, she exists now, and she'll exist tomorrow. Go ahead and tweet whatever the fuck you want to tweet; there are queer and trans people that have served in the military forever and will continue to.” — Matthew

“We’re seeing our community. We’ve dealt with some terrible times and we've survived. We’ve made progress and there are steps back, and it's a tough road, but it does create some cohesion and hope, no matter how bad things get.” — Matthew

Words by The Editors, Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown. All images subject to copyright law and may not be reproduced without proper authorization from the license holder(s).

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