LGBTQ history through a photographer’s lens at the Museum of the City of New York

"PRIDE: Photographs of Stonewall and beyond" features photographs of the 1969 Stonewall riots captured by Fred W. McDarrah. Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

"PRIDE: Photographs of Stonewall and Beyond" features the work of Fred W. McDarrah, who documented LGBTQ life in the city.

"PRIDE: Photographs of Stonewall and beyond" features photographs of the 1969 Stonewall riots captured by Fred W. McDarrah.
"PRIDE: Photographs of Stonewall and beyond" features photographs of the 1969 Stonewall riots captured by Fred W. McDarrah. Photo Credit: Macari Vineyards

The significance of Pride Month can only truly be understood in the context of the moments that led to the LGBT rights movement in the United States. While it isn’t possible to go back in time, the Museum of the City of New York is helping to bring the Stonewall riots of 1969 to life in a new exhibit.

A walk through “PRIDE: Photographs of Stonewall and Beyond” leads guests on a journey through the events of June 28, 1969, with photos by Fred W. McDarrah. On that day, members of the LGBT community retaliated against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a local gay bar, and ignited a six-day uprising against LGBT discrimination. McDarrah, who worked for the Village Voice up until his death in 2007, was one of the only professional photographers who captured the riots, and thereafter focused much of his work on LGBT life in New York City.

Sarah Seidman, Puffin Foundation curator of social activism at the museum, said the curators’ goal was to show the diverse subcultures within the LGBT movement, and emphasize how they came together. The photos in the collection range from children with their parents at pride parades, to teens immersed in skate culture, and commemorations of those who have died of AIDS.

“Stonewall has been whitewashed in certain ways,” Seidman said. “There were so many trans folks and people of color at the Stonewall Inn during the uprising and we wanted to capture their presence and really highlight the world of a really diverse range of New Yorkers.”

McDarrah's work at The Village Voice often revolved around NYC's LGBTQ scene.
McDarrah’s work at The Village Voice often revolved around NYC’s LGBTQ scene. Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

The walls of photographs within the exhibit, running along a rainbow-colored floor, feature diverse moments — from the riots themselves to parades to personal moments of pride and celebration. Guests can also listen to interviews that the curators collected, and write down their experiences at LGBT pride marches from the past 50 years on a rainbow notecard that will be placed along the gallery wall.

“It’s to put yourself in the picture a little bit and to capture the range of New Yorkers today who were either part of the struggle 50 years ago or are part of the movement or the pride marches every year today,” Seidman said. “It’ll be interesting for people to read each other’s (notecards) and see what has changed or what hasn’t.”

Out of all the images in the exhibit, there is one that stands out to Whitney Donhauser, director and president of the museum: A wall-length black-and-white photo of a transgender woman playfully gazing at the camera with bright eyes and pursed lips.

“It really captures such a great enthusiasm for the moment,” she said, adding that it is images of pure joy that really show the inclusivity and strength of fighting for equality.

“It shows the power of your voice and coming together to demonstrate and to show the power and strength of the community by sheer numbers and masses,” Donhauser said. “That’s a very powerful message for young people to see. That it was not so easy, and there was a fight for advocacy, for rights, and that when people come together and show the force, that’s something that’s very meaningful.”

Visitors are encouraged to write their experiences on a notecard. The notecards will be displayed on a gallery wall.
Visitors are encouraged to write their experiences on a notecard. The notecards will be displayed on a gallery wall. Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

The "PRIDE" exhibit will be open through Dec. 31. It accompanies another exhibit that celebrates the work of McDarrah and the Village Voice, called “The Voice of the Village: Fred W. McDarrah Photographs,” which will be open through Dec. 1.

Li Yakira Cohen