Project Consults on Upcoming Exhibition Highlighting LGBTQ Nightlife and Activism
May 5, 2019
By: Muri Assunção
Nobody knows who threw the first punch, or cocktail glass, high-heel shoe, or beer bottle that sparked the Stonewall Riots, a series of protests seen as the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ rights movement.
But in the early hours of June 28, 1969, after a police raid at The Stonewall Inn on Christopher St., the long-marginalized gay community decided to fight back.
For six violent nights, trans women of color, homeless LGBTQ youth, lesbians, drag queens, gay men, and their allies rioted, protested, got arrested, and changed the course of history. Though not the community’s first act of defiance — or the last — the Stonewall uprising became the defining moment in the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the riots, the The New-York Historical Society is taking a look at its legacy and what those blood-shedding nights in Manhattan’s West Village meant in the battle for LGBTQ acceptance in New York City, the U.S., and beyond.
On view from May 24 to Sept. 22, “Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society” will feature two exhibitions and one special installation to highlight how the LGBTQ movement fits into New York history.
Dr. Louise Mirrer, the Society’s president and CEO, hopes to show “the critical role played by Stonewall in helping our nation towards a more perfect union,” she said.
And that path was forged in some of the unlikeliest places.
“Nightlife spaces, whether, they’re bars, restaurants, dance halls, or performance venues, have always enabled members of the LGBTQ community to meet, mingle and socialize outside of their homes, their jobs or on the streets,” Ken Lustbader, NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project’s co-director told the Daily News.
Lustbader worked as a consultant in “Letting Loose and Fighting Back: LGBTQ Nightlife Before and After Stonewall.” The exhibit, curated by Rebecca Klassen, the Society’s Assistant Curator of Material Culture, explores how nightlife has shaped the community’s identity, and strengthened its activism.
Visitors will get a chance to see artifacts from iconic gay venues from as far back as the 1950s. The exterior sign for the Paradise Garage, and a lighter with a sticker from the Ramrod, the popular leather bar that appeared in the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. video and was the scene of a deadly anti-gay shooting in 1980.
Legendary lesbian activist and Harlem Renaissance dancer Mabel Hampton is featured in “By the Force of Our Presence: Highlights from the Lesbian Herstory Archives,” which deals specifically with women and their contributions to the larger LGBTQ community.
The exhibition wraps up with “Say It Loud, Out and Proud: Fifty Years of Pride,” a timeline of LGBTQ history.
From Stonewall, to AIDS, to marches and changes in legislation, the piece acts as a teaching aid.
“There’s a graphic component that draws from 50 years of photographs of marches to create a compelling seamless visual sense of ongoing marching, work, and activism,” Klassen explained.
Photos, top to bottom:
 On view from May 24 to Sept. 22, “Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society” will feature two exhibitions and one special installation to highlight how the LGBTQ movement fits into New York history.
 National Park Service (founded 1916), Paper fan, 2016 Paper, wood. (Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society)
 Kenny Chanel and Bobby Revlon, House of Milan Ball, NYC Gay Community Center, 1990 Digital print courtesy of Chantal Regnault (b. 1945). (Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society)
 ACT UP activists at Pride March, 1988, by Eugene Gordon. (Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society)
 Dr. Martens (founded 1960), Christina McKnight’s Dyke March boots, ca. 1993–2000. The Lesbian Herstory Archives. (Stonewall 50 at New-York Historical Society)