In Time magazine's March 9, 1962 cover story on Key West resident Tennessee Williams, three of the playwright's dramas are singled out for addressing homosexual desires. Yet the article labels Williams' lover of 15 years, Frank Merlo, as "his longtime secretary," and the poet's sexuality is not disclosed or implied. The newsmagazine's first explicit coverage of gays didn't arrive until the Oct. 31, 1969 edition, on which it printed an overexposed photograph of a young male, and an ominous banner: "The Homosexual in America."
Both covers appear in the 19-panel "The Times of Our Lives: LGBT People and Issues on the Cover of Time Magazine," the debut exhibit of the Stonewall National Museum's new Wilton Manors Gallery, which will mark its soft opening on Saturday. Some 150 Time covers wrap around the unplastered walls of the unfinished gallery, a 2,000-square-foot space on Wilton Drive, which Stonewall National Museum executive director David Jobin says is a "much bigger stage" for the LGBT rights-championing museum headquartered two miles away on Sunrise Boulevard.
"It would've been a crime not to house a Stonewall Museum in the gay mecca of South Florida. I mean, look at where we are," Jobin says during a tour of the gallery. "It will get tons of foot traffic. We began our three-year lease in January, and we've waited long enough. We just want people to see this communal gathering space for primarily LGBT people. We want exhibits that are conversation starters."
Charles Ross, the museum's chief curator and the gallery's donor, says the Time magazine show is worth talking about. Starting with Shakespearean actress Eleonora Duse on the July 30, 1923 cover (reportedly bisexual), the 125 issues depict LGBT figures and their accomplishments, with their sexuality either mentioned or omitted entirely. Ross says he spent three months reading every cover story, tracing the magazine's evolving prejudices about homosexuality over the decades, although he does not blame Time for "ignoring [each person's] gayness."
"Who can imagine Time saying that in 1923, or 1953 even? It wasn't even talked about openly until [sex researcher] Alfred Kinsey," Ross says. "It was the love that dare not speak its name. But you can't ignore that gays are leading trends and were a prominent influence in our society, and that Time was the cultural barometer of America's acceptance of homosexuals."
"T-Shirt Designs by A.J. Epstein" is the second exhibit on display, featuring the propaganda T-shirt designs of photographer, author and Fort Lauderdale resident Andrew Epstein, who has chronicled post-Stonewall gay history since the late 1960s.
"It's vibrant. It's colorful. It's cheeky and sassy," Ross says of Epstein's show. "He was on the frontlines of queer culture."
The Times of Our Lives: LGBT People and Issues on the Cover of Time Magazine, and T-Shirt Designs by A.J. Epstein
When: Noon-11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 2-11 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday; starting Saturday, March 22, until March 30. Exhibit then moves to Stonewall National Museum and Archives (1300 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) from March 31 through May 31.
Where: Stonewall Museum — Wilton Manors Gallery, 2157 Wilton Drive
Contact: 954-763-8565 or StonewallNationalMuseum.org