When the 1969 Stonewall Riots erupted in the Greenwich Village, Allen Ginsberg was elsewhere. But the legendary queer poet of the Beat Generation made his way downtown one day after the initial brawl that ricocheted from Christopher Street and across the country. Surveying the damage, Ginsberg recognized how Stonewall would change gay life by rendering undeniably visible the LGBTQ people of America. Discussing the riots, he is believed to have said, “You know, the guys there were so beautiful — they’ve lost that wounded look the [gay men] all had ten years ago.”
In 1984, Ginsberg took another chance to discuss the significance of the police raid. Speaking in the documentary Before Stonewall, his remarks were reflective and encompassing:
All of a sudden at the height of the anti-war movement, at the height of the black liberation movement, after the triumph of liberation of the word [the end of print censorship], all of a sudden the cops were in there again trying to bust some guys right in the center of Sheridan Square, the most bohemian traditional place in Greenwich Village!
Two years earlier, the Howl author had a chance to survey the growing breadth of photography Hank O’Neal was creating around the Christopher Street Parade, which evolved into what we today call the Pride March.
Between 1974 and 1983, O’Neal joined the LGBTQ people marching for their rights through Greenwich Village and documented their journey. These photographs are included in Swann Auction Galleries’s “Pride Sale,” a curated auction of material related to the queer community and the gay rights movement on June 20, 2019. The images render a loving portrait of queer people celebrating their right to existence as a form of activism. A handful of photographs also depict the trans pioneer Marsha P. Johnson in full splendor on the streets. Naturally, these demonstrations went hand-in-hand with more obvious protests. There are a number of photographs featuring queer men and women mocking Anita Bryant, the former singer who emerged as a strident anti-gay crusader in the late 1970s and teamed up with the divisive evangelical figure Jerry Falwell to trounce gay rights. “Anita, dear, shove it” one woman’s shirt reads. Another caricatures her with the likes of Adolph Hitler.
Ginsberg enjoyed O’Neal’s images so much that he took to them, literally. On the backs of these photographs, he wrote stream-of-consciousness commentary about the scenes at hand. We’ve published a selection of them below.
Allen Ginsberg: “Black white brown boy girl what idealism! — Wearing their hearts on a banner for nothing but love”
Allen Ginsberg: “What a pleasant conversation they’re having under Hitler’s head, guy with handsome bicep chest, holding the banner aloft lightly, and the eyeglassed smiling inquirer.”
Allen Ginsberg: “See anyone there you’d like to have VD [venereal disease] with?”
Allen Ginsberg: “Harvey Milk died for your sins”
Allen Ginsberg: “I deserve a cute boy’s kiss for this truthful hat. And he’s so sensitive, look at that tiny white dog!”
Allen Ginsberg: “She’s an old anarchist from the 30’s. She read Marcel Proust in the slums of Barcelona. She used to be a movie star in Berlin 1923. Now she lives in Queens in disguise as a typical American mother.”
Allen Ginsberg: “Young meat catholes appreciating each other’s summer mouths.”
Swann’s first ever “Pride Sale,” a curated auction of material related to the LGBTQ+ experience and the gay rights movement, takes place on June 20, 2019. A corresponding exhibition of works on offer will run from June 15 through the sale.