Andrew J. Epstein Collection
September 18, 2012
As a student at the University of Southern California, a place filled with knowledge and resources, I often forget how many resources are offered to us. I recently discovered one of the university’s most valuable assets, the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. A place filled with books, newspapers, photos, digital media, and art work covering LGBTQI material from as early as the 1950’s. I recently had the chance to look over one of the collections by photographer Andrew J. Epstein (A.J. Epstein).
A.J. Epstein, a photographer and artist from the Los Angeles area, has been documenting people and events in the LGBTQI community for over 40 years.
As I looked at the very powerful photographs in the collection, I was intrigued by the variety of the photographs; there are so many feelings expressed in the faces of the people, artwork, parades, protests, all capturing queer culture and history. Although all of the photos were striking, two in particular stood out to me.
In the first photo was, I’m not sure exactly how this person would like to be identified, but for lack of a better term, I will say drag queen. It was taken at the New York City Gay Parade in 1975. The black and white photograph was of a drag queen in a beautiful, long gown, long blond hair, a crown, and a Miss America Pageant sash holding a picket sign. One simple sentence written across it that explains it all so basically: “Not every Boy Dreams of Being a Marine.” The message that those few words hold is very impactful. Although the statement is simple, the concept in our society is not. I recently read the novel Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, and a quote from it came to mind, “Who was I now–woman or man? That question could never be answered as long as those were the only choices; it could never be answered if it had to be asked.” It makes me think of the way our society likes to put everything into categories but leaves no chance for fluidity.
The other photograph, “Coors Boycott Mascot, San Francisco Gay Parade, 1974 or 1975” is of a man in a beer costume with the words “BOYCOTT Coors, DON’T BUY Coors.” This caught my attention because I knew nothing about what this photograph represented. After some reading, I found that in the mid-1970’s Coors was being boycotted by many minority groups because of unequal treatment such as firing gays and lesbians and discriminatory remarks towards Hispanics and Blacks. It reminded me of the protests against Chick-fil-A that recently occurred. The quote “history often repeats itself” comes to mind. Here we are again in 2012, protesting because of the large, devastating influence corporations can have on the rights of regular people. I can only hope that we also learn from our histories in order to change for the better.
Gender Studies Intern
Images: A.J. Epstein, Drag Queen at New York City Gay Parade, 1975; A.J. Epstein, Coors Boycott Mascot, San Francisco Gay Parade, 1974 or 1975. A.J. Epstein Photography Collection