PHOTOS: 1950s Gay Couple Found Safety, Showed Affection In Photo Booth

2011035_0022These days, most people wouldn’t think twice if they saw a gay couple showing affection for one another in public. But that wasn’t always the case.

This picture was taken inside a photo booth in 1953, during a time when police used to target gay and lesbian for being “sexual deviants.” Had these two young men been caught, they likely would have been arrested and thrown in jail.

Time reports that the photo was once owned by J.J. Belanger, who is featured on the right-hand side of the picture. Belanger was born in Edmonton, Canada in 1925, and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1942 to 1944.

When he was in his 20s, Belanger moved to California. In the early 1950s, he was one of the original members of the Mattachine Society, one of the first LGBT organizations in the country.

In addition to that, Belanger was the Los Angeles coordinator of the Eulenspiegel Society, oldest and largest BDSM education and support group in the United States, in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he was involved with the San Francisco chapter of the Stonewall Gay Democratic Club, as well as Project Inform and the Quarantine Fighter’s Group.

Throughout his lifetime, Belanger was a devoted collector of historical LGBT artifacts and materials. These two photographs of him are now part of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries, the largest repository of LGBT materials in the world, along with several of Belanger’s letters, notebooks, and audio recordings.

Check out these other vintage photos from gay yesteryear.

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  • Cam

    I love peeks into our history like this.

  • alterego1980

    Belanger is a lucky guy, he hooked up with a total hottie! these historical articles are the best Queerty is doing right now

  • RobR

    I LOVE articles like this that give a glimpse into our history. Well done Queerty!

  • DjARD

    But… but… he’s not a buff straight man. Who cares? Don’t actually make me think, Queerty. That’d be awful.

    (For reals: this is quite lovely.)

  • princess ida

    I sincerely hope these two made it together.

  • Mezaien

    @Cam: That is not that far away history! mpst of us are still exist.

  • Maximiliano5458

    It’s so refreshing to see that these people from the past were braved enough to pave the future for us to enjoy. Thank you.

  • hex0

    “most people wouldn’t think twice if they saw a gay couple showing affection for one another in public.”

    WTF world does queerty live in? Unless you live in SF or Brighton and never travel how the hell is this true?

  • Billy Budd

    Here in Brazil you will be in danger in case you make PDA.

  • Kangol

    Beautiful glimpse into the past.

  • Zekester

    “These days, most people wouldn’t think twice if they saw a gay couple showing affection for one another in public.”

    On WHAT fucking planet? Perhaps in the Castro and maybe parts of Chelsea would most people not think twice if they saw a gay couple showing affection for one another in public. Just about everywhere else most people think twice about it that’s why you never, or almost never, see gay people showing affection in public.

    That is a ridiculously clueless statement. I NEVER see gay men showing affection in public; except occasionally at a gay pride event. I see straight people practically breeding in public just about everywhere and rarely have I seen lesbians being affectionate in public, outside of a gay pride event.

  • michael

    @Zekester: There are, of course, places in the U.S. where PDAs by gays is not considered acceptable. However, in Chicago there are large areas of the city where gay men are completely comfortable holding hands, putting their arms around each other’s shoulders or waists and kissing their friends when they meet in a restaurant, coffee shop or on the street. From the Loop north to Evanston (and beyond) and from the Lakefront west to Clark/Southport/Ashland the general population is fairly sophisticated and gay-friendly (or, at least gay-tolerant.) This is the area of the city where I live my life and I have very rarely been made to feel uncomfortable just being my regular ol’ gay self in 30 over years.

  • michael mellor

    Today, men still hide their same-sex erotic affections. It’s only really acceptable in gay bars or special events such as gay pride events. Random male-male erotic affection is not usually seen in the public sphere.

    I agree with the poster who said that lesbian affection is more publicly accepted. It’s a double standard. We men get the short end of the stick.

  • Sebizzar

    Whenever I see vintage gay couples “awww” because it’s so adorable, yet so sad just to imagine how much fear and anxiety they had to live with :(

  • Jacob23

    I found the photo somewhat moving, as you consider that they were carving out a tiny zone of freedom in that booth, while the whole world was against them.

    But as I read on, I saw that that dude got involved with the disgusting Eugenspiegel Society. I remember them from a nauseating display at a pride parade. A near naked obese woman was whipping a middle-aged bare-assed man with a cat-o-nine tails as he crawled down the street on all fours like a dog. Everyone watching was disgusted. A friend of mine asked me “WTF does a public display of heterosexual sadomasochism have to do with being gay or with feeling proud to be gay?” And I said “Nothing. Not one damned thing.”

    So Balenger, if you are reading this: you peaked in the 50s.

  • SunriseEarth

    It’s great that Queerty has articles on historical topics. After all, they need at least a little content that doesn’t reference Tom Daley.

  • gesslar

    I live in Toronto and I still feel awkward with PDAs with my bf of 20 years.

  • Franco C.

    I’d be curious to learn more about the two men in the photograph, if they are still alive. These are stunning images.

  • Maude

    True, but when you ‘scored’ and brought him home, or went to his home, it was sublime.
    The more dangerous it was, the more exciting was the sex.
    I recall a time when we were afraid that the ‘trick’ was a cop.
    Once, I met a guy in a gay bar in Greenwich Village who said he was from England, we took a cab to the Plaza Hotel where he was staying, and I still asked if he was a cop several times before we arrived there….it got him so pissed off, he told the cab driver to pull over, and he told me to “Get out”, and I did.
    Thats how it was then.

  • Maude

    I should have included the fact that I never was so insistent again.

    But I was always afraid that the cop I was so scared of meeting would be the one I was with tonight.

    One of my friends met a cop in central park in the day time, and who came to his house that evening, and they had an affair that lasted at least a month.

  • mcflyer54

    My brother used to work for a company that serviced these photo machines back in the 60s. While the couples may have thought they were being discrete and “safely” recording their affection for posterity that really wasn’t always true. The machines retained the negatives of these photos and some of the service technicians were more than willing to develop and share the duplicate photos with their friends. Usually the photos that were shared involved teenage girls exposing their breasts or single guys dropping their pants but often times the photos were of same sex couples just like these examples. I don’t know of anyone getting arrested or in trouble but I do know that they weren’t as private as the subjects might have thought. Thankfully Polaroid came along and removed some of the risk.

    If you’re interested in what gay life really used to be like the Broadway show “The Nance” is playing (one night only) at some movie theaters across the country on Monday night June 30th. It’s a very interesting, and historically pretty accurate, portrayal of gay life in the NYC during the late 1930s & early 1940s. has on line information as to whether it is available in your area.

  • Sebizzar

    @Maude: I guess that’s true, the rush would feel much stronger cause it would be so forbidden. I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that though :( I would’ve been just as paranoid. That guy should’ve been more understanding.

    Btw, just realized there was an error in my post it should’ve been “Whenever I see pictures of vintage gay couples, I go “awww” because it’s so adorable” etc.

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