Pride Week: A Look at the Brooklyn Museum’s Gay Rights Exhibits, Past and Present


The Brooklyn Museum has a tradition of showcasing the work of gay rights advocates, many of whom vied for equality in hostile political climates. As Pride Week draws to a close, here is a look at the Brooklyn Museum’s best tributes to the gay rights struggle in the United States and beyond. Some of these exhibits are currently on display while others are from past years, but they all illustrate that the fight for real equality is a centuries old endeavor, and that there’s still work to be done. 


Photo: Zanele Muholi/Brooklyn Museum
Photo: Zanele Muholi/Brooklyn Museum

Currently on Display: Zanele Muholi: Isibonelo/Evidence
Zanele Muholi is a South African visual artist whose photography seeks to illuminate the hard path most gay people in her country face on a daily basis. Her work is currently on display in Isobonelo/Evidence, a series of black and white portraits of many young gay and lesbian South Africans. According to the museum, the exhibit “uses firsthand accounts to speak to the experience of living in a country that constitutionally protects the rights of LGBTI people but often fails to defend them from targeted violence.”


A still shot from Matthew Shepard was a friend of mine.
A still shot from Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine.

Currently on Display: Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
The murder of Matt Shepard in 1998 sent shockwaves across the nation and illuminated just how violent hate can be. This movie about 21-year-old Shepard from Casper, Wyoming provides a heartfelt remembrance of someone slain in a brutal hate crime, and a lens into how homophobia has changed over the years. This film screens tonight at 7pm.


Lorraine Hansberry. Photo: Brooklyn Museum.
Lorraine Hansberry. Photo: Brooklyn Museum.

Past Exhibit: Twice Militant: Lorraine Hansberry’s Letters to “The Ladder”
Lorraine Hansberry, author of a Raisin in the Sun, was a pioneer in the early gay rights movement during the 1950s. During that time, Hansberry wrote letters to The Ladder, the first subscription-based lesbian publication in the United States. In these letters, previously showcased at the museum, “Hansberry drew on her own identity and life experiences to articulate the interconnected struggles of women, lesbians, and African Americans during the period,” says the museum’s website. The exhibit was on display from November 22, 2013–March 16, 2014.

Walt Whitman had a fluid sexual identity in the 19th century. Photo: Brooklyn Musuem
Walt Whitman had a fluid sexual identity in the 19th century. Photo: Brooklyn Museum

Past Exhibit: Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture
This sweeping exhibit sought to capture the themes of sexuality and gender in American portrait art, and the subtle gender-based undertones that pervaded these works for years. The largest showcasing of its kind, this display featured works produced across a century of American history, with portraits on display of literary giants like Walt Whitman and artists like Marcel Duchamp. The exhibit was on display from November 18, 2011–February 12, 2012.


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