by Phillip Potter, 1971, © Phillip Potter
Out of the Closets, into the Streets: Gay Liberation Photography, 1971-73
The exhibition Out of the closets, into the streets: gay liberation photography 1971-73 pictures the very beginning of the gay liberation movement in Australia through the work of Philip Potter, John Storey, John Englart, Barbara Creed, Ponch Hawkes and Rennie Ellis. The exhibition examines for the first time images from the period as works of art as much as social documents. The title of the exhibition is a slogan from the period.
As gay people found their voice in the early 1970s artists, often at the very beginning of their careers, were there to capture meetings in lounge rooms, consciousness raising groups and street protests. The liberation movement meant ‘being there’, putting your body on the line.
Dewey’s, pre-Stonewall fight for equality, Philadelphia, 1965
In 1965, the management of the Dewey’s at 219 S 17th Street near Rittenhouse Square (now Little Pete’s) made it clear that they would refuse service “to a large number of homosexuals and persons wearing non-conformist clothing.” Modeled on the current African-American civil rights protests, on Sunday, April 25th, more than 150 protestors, black, white, trans, lesbian and gay staged a sit-in, an amazing thing to do in Philadelphia in 1965, four years before the Stonewall riots. Police arrived and three of the protestors who refused to leave were arrested. They were young; two males and a female.
Journalist and activist Clark Polak and the Janus Society, a local gay rights group, were notified. Over the next week, in support of the protestors, they distributed some 1,500 leaflets outside the restaurant [photo, above].On Sunday, May 2, they staged a second sit-in. This time, when the police were called, they spoke with the protestors and simply left, declining to take any action at all, [see photo, bottom, of the police at Dewey’s in 1965]. The management agreed to end the discrimination and the protestors left, having staged the first successful gay rights sit-in in the country. This marked an important step in the struggle for LGBT people to lay claim to the right to public space in 1960s Philadelphia.
Fifty-five hundred people assemble at Hollywood High School before marching through Hollywood to protest possible anti-gay legislation sparked by singer Anita Bryant.
June 13, 1977, LA Times/UCLA
Police officers stand watch over activists at Storm the NIH protest, May 21, 1990
In one of its most dramatic and effective national protests, ACT UP chapters from across the country occupied the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on May 21, 1990. During Storm the NIH, protestors staged a “die in” and plastered buildings with signs and banners to illustrate their demands for governmental action on AIDS treatment. Responding to a wave of activism, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, initiated changes in the testing of AIDS drugs.
Courtesy Donna Binder
Poster for the Department of Health and Human Services demonstration designed by ACT UP/DC WoMen’s Committee, 1990
In October 1990, ACT UP descended upon Washington and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, carrying signs that demanded the formal definition of AIDS change to include women. Excluded from the diagnosis of having AIDS, women could not access potentially lifesaving care and treatment, even as they died of the disease.
Courtesy National Library of Medicine
Protestors in front of the Department of Health and Human Services, during the national campaign to change the definition of AIDS, October 2, 1990
With chapters across the country, ACT UP held thousands of demonstrations between 1987 and 1996, including one at the Department of Health and Human Services to insist that women with AIDS receive care and treatment. Their actions transformed how scientists and politicians responded to the AIDS crisis.
Courtesy Donna Binder