As June arrives and we begin to celebrate the beginning of summer, we also get to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community with Pride Month. Pride Month happens June of each year and commemorates the fight for social justice within the LGBTQ+ community, and celebrates the progress the queer community has made thus far. Pride first began in 1969 when police raided a gay establishment and riots ensued, later causing gay activists to march in response to the events at The Stonewall Inn.
With the queer community comes it’s icons, and Staten Island is home to one extraordinary gay woman. Alice Austen was one of the country’s earliest photographers, capturing over 8000 images – including a variety of photos of her secret lover, Gertrude Tate. Alice Austen was a lifelong New Yorker, but settled in Staten Island after meeting Gertrude and beginning their life together. Nearly 30 years later this house would soon become Staten Island’s own Alice Austen House Museum – an LGBTQ nationally designated site, located on Hylan Boulevard.
Her photographs explored the life of a lesbian woman in a society where being queer was nearly unheard of. While her surroundings pushed cultural standards her way, Austen continued to pioneer and push the boundaries set for ‘suitable young women.’ Throughout the years, historians have been known to falsely depict Austen’s images and overlooking the clear, queer subtleties and relationships that Alice Austen was having with other Victorian women. We then see Austen’s photography become focused on one particular woman, Tate, who would own her heart until they both passed- even though their parents never approved and their requests to be buried near each other were denied.
The Alice Austen House was built in the early 1700’s and has since been recognized throughout the world as a significant and historic landmark, holding the entirety of her collection of photographs that document her lifetime. The Alice Austen House also currently provides programming for children, including kids photography classes to honor Austen herself. In June of 2017, The Alice Austen House became the 14th national site of LGBTQ+ history, but was the first site in New York City designated to a woman to receive such a nomination. Originally the site’s LGBTQ+ history was ignored, but after an initiative from the National Park Service in 2014, this issue was quickly amended.
While the world has certainly progressed past Austen’s time and is way more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, the fight is not even close to done. For every person that is allowed to live out and be proud there is someone in the world, similar to Alice Austen, who has to hide who they are because of their surroundings. We must continue to fight for equality and not stay silent and complacent, sharing acceptance and open arms for those in need- during Pride month and beyond.
The Alice Austen House is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12PM – 4PM. Admission is only $5, however, members can visit for free. The offers group tours, as well as a number of events and rotating exhibitions. The Houses’ current exhibition is titled “Radical Tenderness: Trans for Trans Portraiture,” and from June 2021 – September 2021 the House will feature “Kelli Connell: Double Life, 2 Decades.” You can plan your visit at aliceausten.org.
While Pride comes with lots of celebration, let us never forget those who fought for liberation before us. Happy Pride Month to all who identify!