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Beautiful Snapshots of LGBT Sanctuaries in The Mid-20th Century

An unprecedented look into the sanctuaries where LGBT communities found solace in a time of strife and misunderstanding.

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Despite social prejudices in America during the Mid-Twentieth Century, LGBT communities thrived within the many sanctuaries where love and identity could be expressed without fear of discrimination.

The photo booth has long been a refuge where LGBT people could express unguarded affection.


The beach has also historically served as a sanctuary for people who identified as gay or lesbian.


Long before marriage permits could be issued for same-sex marriages, couples underwent marriage ceremonies to affirm their commitment and love for one another.

These images capture a joyous wedding ceremony in Philadelphia, circa 1957. The photographs were part of a set that was deemed inappropriate by the local photo shop and never returned to the customer.


Despite a longtime military practice of banning gay and lesbian people from the armed forces, great numbers of gay and lesbian people have served in the U.S. military.

The large congregation of men and women in same-sex environments meant gay and lesbian people could find each other in numbers never before possible. After World War II, many gay and lesbian service members remained in large port cities, forming robust communities and presaging the start of the modern gay rights movement.

ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries

Women's Army Corps (WACS) servicewomen L. Weber, Esther Fromm, and Marvyl working on a plane at Patterson Field. Circa 1944.


Carolyn Weathers, activist, author, and publisher writes:

"Maybelle and Bee's bar was outside the San Antonio, Texas, city limits and harder to regulate for the police, sheriff, military police, and liquor control boards. Therefore, we could dance there. It's not that we were doing anything illegal. In 1963, we ourselves were illegal."

ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries

Ralph, Anita Onnales and Carolyn Weathers at a fiesta in a beer garden in La Villita in San Antonio, TX.

The album caption reads: "In the German Beer Garden at La Villita, 'a night in old San Antonio.' Fiesta 1962."

Dottie Frank with others at Acme Bar. Circa 1961

When Latino gay activist José Julio Sarria was arrested on a morals charge, he decided "to be the most notorious impersonator or homosexual or fairy or whatever you want to call me." His theatrical drag performances ridiculed the police who harassed him.

He later ran for a city supervisor's seat in 1961, the first openly LGBT person to run for government office in the United States.

Among the company of close friends, people were free to express their true identities without strife or discontent. And of course, dance as much as their hearts desired.

ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries

Two men wear bird cages at a Henry Wooton Grace "Japanese" party thrown at his home.

Grace was a Hollywood set designer and art director from 1935-1970. He won the Academy Award for his work on Gigi (1958) and was nominated eight other times for his work on Blackboard Jungle, North by Northwest, Cimarron, How the West Was Won, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and others.

In January 1953, a group of Mattachine Society members in Los Angeles came together to publish the first LGBT periodical, ONE Magazine.

In 1953 and again in 1954, the local postmaster confiscated the magazine, claiming its positive portrayal of homosexuality violated federal obscenity laws. But in the 1958 decision ONE, Inc. v. Olesen, the United States Supreme Court overturned the ruling, delivering the first Supreme Court decision in favor of LGBT rights.

This online display has been made possible by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. unknown

Core ONE Incorporated staff (from left to right) Don Slater, W. Dorr Legg, and Jim Kepner. Circa 1957-1958.

ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries is the largest repository of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer materials in the world. Find information on the ONE Archives Foundation at the USC Libraries, here.

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