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Picturing the Generations We Lost

We must preserve the queer identities we have now so they are not lost to time.

A friend walks in front of me in the crowd at Chicago Market Days 2019, photo by author

This is the legacy of gay imagery in the United States. It is a visual narrative that has been controlled by a society that at some points did not accept our existence, and at others persecuted us to the fullest extent.

Historically, the heterosexual public craves negative imagery to confirm that their own assumptions about alternative lifestyles are correct. They want to be disgusted, indignant, immersed in the sublime righteousness of their own way of life. At other times they love the pageantry. They want to celebrate the elaborate methods of artistry created by communities that would have been stamped out at many points in history were it not for an earned resilience and outright defiance.

Outside of these two types of imagery there is little record of the LGBTQIA+ population in either historic or commercial photography. We live our lives loudly, in full rainbow, existing on a stage of furious gay iconography, or we suffer injustices quietly on the second page of the newspaper and in minor think pieces in niche magazines.

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