Being Gay During Prohibition

I want you to imagine what being LGBTQ+ would be like in the 1920s or 30’s. How about the 1860s? If you’re like many today, you likely imagine the concept of the closet and assume society forced LGBTQ+ people to conform to the sexual mores of the day. They were repressed; forbidden from expressing themselves and living the lives they want.
Now, what if I told you the closet is actually pretty new? What if I told you LGBTQ+ culture in the 20s thrived in a little bubble where in bars, speakeasies, and dance halls they met, loved, and expressed themselves in a way much more free than just decades later? Let’s take a look at this bubble and focus in on New York City.

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Photo Credits:
Charles Hutchins

-Bullock, Darryl W. “Pansy Craze: the wild 1930s drag parties that kickstarted gay nightlife.” The Guardian. September 14, 2017. Accessed September 14, 2017.
-Chauncey, George, Jessica Shatan, Archie Ferguson, and Vicki Gold Levi. Gay New York: gender, urban culture, and the making of the gay male world, 1890-1940. New York: BasicBooks, 1994.
-Ferentinos, Susan. Interpreting LGBT history at museums and historic sites. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2015.
-Garber, Eric. “Gladys Bentley.” Queer Cultural Center. Accessed September 14, 2017.
-Stabbe April 11, Oliver. “Queens and queers: The rise of drag ball culture in the 1920s.” National Museum of American History. April 11, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2017.
-“Subcultures and Sociology.” Underground Ball Cultures. Accessed September 14, 2017.
-Zarrelli, Natalie. “The Incredible Forgotten Queer Nightlife Scene of the 1920s.” Atlas Obscura. June 12, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2017.

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  1. I suspect white cis liberals (of which I'm one) have a bit of a savior complex and tend to construct narratives where we lift minority groups out of oppression. History might have a progressive tendency, but its not always that straightforward.

  2. I think there's something to be said about fluctuations in the restricted areas where marginalized groups can exist being solidly distinct from what they can actually do in public. I mean, the whole "progress of rights" thing is a lot more complicated than most people make it out to be, but I can see why people wouldn't focus so much on what you can't do outside semi-covert spaces.

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