Roosevelt Island’s little known gay history jumped out of the figurative closet, in 2019, at Joe’s Pub. It’s a musical. The Gorgeous Nothings In Concert.
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes
By David Stone
We learned something in 2019, when a theatre company, Life Jacket, brightly exposed Roosevelt Island’s gay history.
No, it didn’t start with Four Freedoms Park’s giant Ascend With Pride flag, that June.
Gay history spins all the way back to the 1930s with men imprisoned on Roosevelt Island for “‘lewd and unnatural acts which offend the public decency’ (New York Penal Law 722, Section 690).”
That inspired The Gorgeous Nothings, gayly reviewed in Broadway World.
The workshop performance, based on extensive research, looks forward to a broader audience. Credit goes to the Roosevelt Island Historical Society for a major dose of archival resources.
But, in truth, Roosevelt Island Gay History is not exactly right. Back in the 1930s, it was Welfare Island, but still the same slab of schist jutting out of the East River.
And it took place in a penitentiary, not Southpoint or Four Freedoms Parks, which occupy the space now.
Keep up with local happenings: The Roosevelt Island News
The Fag Follies: Roosevelt Island Gay History
Welfare Island is where New York City once sent its undesirables. The prison later relocated to Rikers, but in the 1930s, smallpox victims, the insane, the poor and gays shipped up the river.
Funny thing is, the enlightened souls of 1930s New York thought homosexuality contagious. Some Republicans still do.
To avoid contamination, the city fathers segregated the population.
And according to Bobby Patrick’s review, they “did what gays do and made something beautiful out of the worst possible circumstance.”
At Christmas, the Fag Follies sang out the bawdiest works of Noel Coward, Irving Berlin and Lorenz Hart.
How about Nobody Loves A Fairy or Taint Nobody’s Business If I Do?
You won’t hear them anywhere else. Read the whole story and keep up with its development.
Roosevelt Island’s growing gay history has deep roots.
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