A Need For Community
Throughout their history, the LGBTQ community has been targeted and harassed solely for loving who they love, a normal occurrence and act for the straight community when they are out enjoying a night out on the town. This made going out in public, especially to party scenes such as clubs and bars, a difficult and ultimately threatening experience. Throughout the later 20th century, the LGBTQ community took things into their own hands and created their own night time scene including gay bars and ballroom.
This photo is from a clip of one of FX’s newest shows, “Pose”. The show is based on and depicts the queer ballroom scene in New York during the late 20th Century. The photo shows a judgement round following a ballroom competition. The show follows different members of the LGBTQ community who all have differing identities and their struggles between themselves and society, but also their strength in overcoming obstacles. FX’s casting team worked to hire a cast representative of the characters. The show is available on Netflix. (Image source: Michael Nagle/For The Times)
What was gay club culture like?
Gay bars provided a safe space for LGBTQ community members to go without fear of being harassed for their identity, and it allowed them to meet other members of the community. However, gay bars were still not fully accepted into societal norms and were kept very small with bland front openings. They often were found in the poorer and underdeveloped parts of town hidden behind inconspicuous doors and tinted windows so outsiders were unaware of the scene inside. While hiding from society was a necessary survival skill, inside members would dance together all night long. Gay bars have also been the starting site of many historical LGBTQ tragedies including the Black Cat Tavern, Stone Wall, and Pulse Night Club, all of which sparked revolutions for the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Fun Fact: During the 1970’s, Hollywood was home to a buzzing underground LGBTQ club culture. In the midst of Hollywood's constant movie productions, many warehouses once used to store materials and supplies became empty and abandoned after use. These small warehouses (averaging around 3,000 square feet) became home to the the gay club scene at night. Their low rent allowed community members to gather for a night full of dance and music to embrace their identities. (Image Source: Anja Matthes)
Gay club culture originated in the early to mid 1900’s, but truly began to thrive and grow in the 70’s and 80’s. It was filled with vibrant music, unique dance moves, and extravagant style. There were no rules or norms, but rather the trend was to be your true and authentic self and to embrace differences and uniqueness. While the club culture of the 70’s and 80’s invited all members of the LGBTQ community, it particularly attracted and was run by the transgender community. Many popular terms such as “ballroom”, “vogue” and “disco” originated through this.
The Music of the Gay Club Scene
Music was a huge component of the club culture as DJ’s would showcase “unpopular” music at the time which often highlighted singers with LGBTQ and POC identities. As this music became more well known, it began making its way out of the club scene and infiltrating society. For example, the song YMCA, known by individuals from the city to the countryside, was initially written to attract gay audiences and captivate the club and bar scenes. However, over time the song became much more popular and started becoming mainstream, just like the disco ball which is seen as an iconic symbol of a party.
Ballroom thrived in the heart of New York beginning in the 1920’s into the 70’s and 80’s. The ballroom scene mostly consists of drag queens who compete against each other in various categories. The ballroom scene allowed many people to openly express their gender identity and sexuality without judgement and many times attendees would be a part of a “house” which was their only true source of family at the time and provided them guidance and mentorship through their younger years and introduction into the LGBTQ community.
This photo stems from a documentary entitled “Paris is Burning” which revolves around the ballroom scene. It focuses on the specific experiences of Black and Brown men as well as transgender women. The purpose of the documentary was to provide information on the club and ballroom scene and to open the eyes of straight audience members to depict the struggles faced by members of the LGBTQ community. (Image Source: Academy Entertainment)
Fun Fact: The popular and unique dance to “Vogue” by Madonna was inspired by and taken from the ballroom scene.