Photograph of Marsha P. Johnson and students at gay rights rally, 1970

Marsha P. Johnson hands out flyers for support of gay students at N.Y.U., 1970. Photo by Diana Davies.

The New York Public Library provides its patrons free access to a vast and varied collection of rare and unique research materials that document the lives and work of historical and living LGBTQ+ people. With books, maps, and pamphlets, and hundreds of archival collections that include letters, photographs, posters, original artwork, video tapes, and more, NYPL's Research Collections together constitute one of the richest repositories for the study of LGBTQ+ history in the world. As part of our celebration of Pride Month, the Library here presents an array of thought-provoking items from LGBTQ+ history selected from the collections held at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Gay political buttons from the 1970s and 1980s

Kay Tobin photograph of Gay Survival Catalog, back cover (colorized).

For people in LGBTQ+ communities, being seen can sometimes be dangerous—yet being visible is a crucial aspect of achieving equal rights and fighting discrimination. Pride Month can be an opportunity for LGBTQ+ people to celebrate gains in the fight for equality in a range of public and self-affirming ways—yet the most fundamental rights afforded LGBTQ+ Americans have been based on a right to privacy.

The lives of people who might today identify as LGBTQ+, more than those of others, have often historically been shaped by questions of visibility (being seen) and privacy (not being seen). In this digital exhibition—which was accompanied by an in-person Open House event at The New York Public Library—we examine a selection of remarkable items from the Library’s collections and ask, in the context of each piece: What does it mean to be seen, or not to be seen?

What does it mean to be seen?

The following galleries each present a selection of remarkable items from the NYPL Research Collections in consideration an aspect of LGBTQ+ visibility. Some materials represent instances of being seen as efforts to connect to community, or engage in artistic self-expression, or assert rights and freedoms—others address historical moments when being seen caused what were then considered scandals.  

Highlights from the Exhibition

Engraved illustration of a ball; all dancers are men, some in suits and some in dresses
El baile de los 12; illustration by Posada (1902)
Photograph of Nancy Tucker and partner in Butch-Femme t-shirts
Nancy Tucker and partner (1970)
Parchment will of Anne Lister
Manuscript will of Anne Lister of Shibden Hall, leaving estate to her "friend," Ann Walker (1836)
Drawings of male figures
Emilio Sanchez untitled drawing (ca. 1980s)
Photo of two issues of the Original Plumbing magazine, by and about trans men.
Original Plumbing, Issues #3 & 18 (2010, 2016)

More Exhibitions

  • The Pleasure of Rebellion

    June 3–July 1, 2024
    Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

    The Pleasure of Rebellion gathers the archives of Black lesbian and feminist writers Alexis De Veaux