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Illegal to Be You: Gay History Beyond Stonewall

This website is based on an exhibition that opened at the National Museum of American History in June 2019. Objects pictured here may differ from those currently on view at the museum.

Illegal to Be You on display at the museum

Illegal to Be You on display at the museum


There is no unified gay history in America and no one way to be gay. The only thing that all gay people have shared across time are the risks and rewards in being themselves. Gay history is familiar, surprising, heartbreaking, empowering, and fabulous—all at the same time. 

The June 1969 uprising against police harassment at The Stonewall Inn, a bar in Lower Manhattan, is probably the most famous moment in U.S. LGBTQ+ history. Fifty years later, the histories of the drag queens, students, homeless youth, and others who were there can be placed within a larger and longer experience of being different. 

Collection can from Christopher Street Liberation Day march, the first pride parade, 1970

Collection can from Christopher Street Liberation Day march, the first pride parade, 1970

Mark Segal made this DIY collection can as a teen.

Gift of Mark Segal

Buttons, 1970

Christopher Street March

Christopher Street, the location of The Stonewall Inn, ran through the heart of New York City’s gay neighborhood.

Gift of Mark Segal

Demonstrators at the South African Embassy, Washington, D.C., 1985

Demonstrators at the South African Embassy, Washington, D.C., 1985

Courtesy of JEB (Joan E. Biren)