A Life in Art

Roosevelt Island Gay History

Roosevelt Island’s little known gay history jumped out of the figurative closet, this week, at Joe’s Pub. It’s a musical. The Gorgeous Nothings In Concert.

By David Stone

We learned something on Monday night when the theatre company Life Jacket lit up Roosevelt Island’s gay history.

No, it didn’t start with Four Freedoms Park’s giant Ascend With Pride flag, last June.

Ascent With Pride Flag, FDR Four Freedoms Park
Ascend With Pride, the largest ever, in Four Freedoms Park, June, 2019.

Gay history spins all the way back to the 1930s when men were 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.

Monday’s 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

Welfare Island is where New York City used to send its undesirables. The prison was later relocated on Rikers, but in the 1930s, smallpox victims, the insane, the poor and gays got shipped up the river.

Funny thing is, the enlightened souls of 1930s New York thought homosexuality was 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.

Get to know Roosevelt Island in history…

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4 replies »

    • True as far as I know, but that was only the start of your breaking new ground. It’s amazing how much more open society is since then. Not that long ago, in my lifetime, Liberace sued a journalist for writing that he was guy. Amazingly, he won, although he was gayer than a spring breeze. That’s how hidden everyone had to be. Sunlight’s good for the country.

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