PHOTOS: These vintage gay Pride photos are absolutely everything

Amateur photographer Alan Light had no idea he was capturing a special moment in LGBTQ+ history when he brought along his camera to various Pride festivals in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Now these vintage gay pride photos offer a glimpse into what the world was like for LGBTQ+ people at that time.

Little did he know that the pictures he snapped would serve as a powerful reminder of what Pride is and has always been about.

“It never occurred to me at the time that they would be looked at as history,” Light, who is now retired and living in Iowa City, tells Queerty. “Or that they could one day I could share them easily and widely on something called the internet. I was just attracted to the rich photographic opportunities the events offered. I have always enjoyed photographing people, and my camera is attracted to the beautiful, mostly, and occasionally the bizarre.”

Related: PHOTOS: Vintage Gay Couples Help Preserve Our Vibrant Queer History

Light says over the years Pride has taken off in a way he never expected, with more mainstream corporate sponsors and big name celebrities getting involved with each passing year.

Related: PHOTOS: Vintage Ads for LA’s Gay Bars of the 1970s, Then & Now

“Pride seemed like a huge event then, but looking back it is quaint compared to those of today,” he says. “Also, nobody then had tattoos.”

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  • Chevelter

    Fascinating to look back at what seems like a simpler time, but of course it wasn’t. A plague was underway. I wonder how many of those folks are still alive. There are many hundreds more photos here on flickr

  • Brian

    We were all younger then…that’s the most poignant thing. We sang and we danced, our whole lives ahead of us. Today we are older, wiser, and not prone to as much partying.

  • bottom250

    @Ummmm Yeah: Sweetie embrace the joy and happiness of the photos instead of bringing your misguided anger.

  • Bryguyf69

    @Ummmm Yeah: Er, how are these photos proof of anything?

    First of all, photographs are taken at the whim of the photographer. In other words, these were simply scenes that piqued the photographer’s interest. Can you rule out that he was simply interested in “mostly gay white men? In no way can you conclude that these were an objective reflection of the time.

    Second, the photographer never pretended to be a journalist or chronicler of gay history. He was merely an “amateur photographer.” As such, why would you even assume that you can extrapolate anything about gay history from the images?
    I recently took some dining photos in Harlem, NY. Are you saying that you can infer things about the 1960’s civil rights movement from my photos of diners?

    Third, where do you see activism in these photos? So how exactly can you infer anything about gay activism throughout the decades from a few irrelevant photos of the 80’s and 90’s? Looking at these photos, you’d think being gay was carefree — when in fact, AIDS was still decimating the community. The SCOTUS ruled against gays in Bowers v Hardwicke. Gays were still kicked out of the military, and gay marriage was not yet on any activists’ roster. Do you seriously think these mostly beefcake and celebratory photos reflect gay life and activism in the 80s/90’s?

    FInally, these pre-date digital photography, Unlike today’s flash memory, a roll of 35mm film generally held no more than 24 photos. And once exposed, you can’t erase and re-use a frame. Then there was the cost of developing. In other words, photography was used sparingly. Such limitations prevented most “amateur phot5ographers” from accurately reflecting reality unless s/he made an extraordinary effect to do so. BUt as the first paragraph made clear, he had no intentions of being historian.

    THINK about it.

  • Bumper

    Looks like yesterday to me. To think I lived through a “vintage” era is making me feel old!

  • John Kuehnle

    I hope some of us aren’t marrying a woman and having kids just to make family and society happy.

  • Bobby French

    Tattoos. Ugh.
    Body graffiti.

  • Glen Martin Fitch

    I went to the Joshua Tree Gay Pride Festival several years ago. No floats, no fast food sponsors, no media. Just dusty dykes and sun burnt cowboys in an open lot. Of course there was a drag queen as MC. And loud music. Give me that ole time PRIDE.

    • Airon Cameron

      I love JT Pride. People were so nice and respectful

  • M K

    I have to say that I didn’t see anything particularly unique of the pics. Seems like anyone could have snapped these.

  • Donald MacMelville

    Actually, they are just photos. They are hardly EVERYTHING.

  • John Mathieson

    Everything seemed wholesome and good vibes.

  • Joel David

    good times

  • alterego1980

    I love these photos. Typically, when I see photos from 20 or 30 years ago, or any time really, I often wonder what the subject in those photos is doing now. The fashions and context together with a little idea about how this person went on to live fascinates me.

  • Eric Karas

    No ink no fur no interest

    • Richard Holaday

      I see fur in those pics … you might want to get your eyes re-checked … just sayin’ ð???

    • Eric Karas

      How rude

  • Tim Bernth

    No tattoos is good…way too many today…

  • Lee Bryan

    Everyone looks thin and fit

  • Bryguyf69

    “Amateur photographer Alan Light had no idea he was capturing a special moment in LGBTQ history…in the late ’80s and early ’90s.”

    How are these photos are any more “special” or historical than any other Pride photos — or any photos of people, for that matter. What is this “special moment” they capture? I see no specific event, i.e. an ACT-UP protest, gay wedding or celebration after Lawrence v Texas, being captured. They seem like generic nondescript photos that have no specificity in time or geography.

  • Gigi Gee

    @Ummmm Yeah: That’s all you got from those lovely pictures? How sad.

  • David Zakrzewski

    Friendlier vibes, better music, less fakery back then. Definitely more fun.

  • Salah Bessiso

    I wish I was beautiful.

  • David Wabel

    70s and 80s are now vintage

  • Matt Arnstine

    Drew Perraut

    • Drew Perraut

      I love gays. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Matt, have you seen “Parting Glances”? Filmed the year I was born and everything about the ways the guys interact is instantly familiar.

    • Matt Arnstine

      Drew Perraut weren’t you born in 1994??

  • martinbakman

    Fun pics. Love the boom box picture.

    @Tim Bernth: Yes, interesting to see men without tatoos on their body.

    @Glen Martin Fitch: I would love to visit the Joshua a Tree Pride. Went to Palm Springs Pride a couple times and impressed to see local high school marching bands in the parade. I don’t imagine that happens in too many places.

  • Chevelter

    Looking through the additional photos of Mr. Light’s on flickr I see that he captured prominent activist Harry Hay by chance in this shot from LA Pride 1986.

  • Chevelter

    For those in West Hollywood, here’s The Abbey in 1991!

  • Kangol

    The young black guy on the left in picture #5 is the famous writer Larry Duplechan, author of Eight Days a Week, Got Til It’s Gone and Blackbird, which Patrik-Ian Polk of Punks and Noah’s Arc fame made into a movie.

    The photos are very moving to me. So many gay men I knew from that period are gone, lost to the ravages of A!DS. The late 1980s and early 1990s were particularly horrible, because AZT had appeared, but the life-saving anti-A!DS meds combo was still a few years (1994-1995) away.

  • DC Sheehan

    Who likes short shorts?!

  • Errol Semple

    No tattoos. Yes!

  • kittyconrad

    Lovely photos, very good photography and a fun walk back in time to see people who made their small contributions to the progress gays have made and are still striving to improve.

  • Tom Mooney

    so much joy in peoples faces. Beautiful photos

  • sanfranca1

    I especially appreciated the date & location annotations.

  • cabe


    Every photo captures a moment in time – the way people dressed, all of the HIV prevention booths, the hair styles etc. No grand statement is being made – just capturuing how things were – and I was there for all of those LA pride fests and that was how it was

  • Wil Chaney

    I long for the days.

  • Mike Johnson

  • Damon Strong

    Too many fake guys today, full of themselves, obsessed with perfection.

  • Stefano

    I’ve never been in a gay ‘pride’ and never will.

  • Jinx West

    These photos are awesome 1980s at their Best. Within a short time, Inactivity on AIDS would claim many of these vital, smart and loving men.
    This is OUR history.
    As a side note, I laughed about all the handkerchiefs in back pockets.

  • Bob LaBlah

    The black guys win hands down. The one with the boom box and the one with the striped shorts bring back SLAMMING memories of the late 70’s and early 80’s for me. Those were the days, my friends, to bad they had to end.

  • trelin

    Wow. Fantastic pictures of the generations that battled national homophobia, and the epidemic that slaughtered so many. Be proud.

  • strix1

    The late 80’s & 90’s are considered “vintage”?? Wow! And they are just amateur pics, nothing spectacular…you should see my pride pics…maybe not on this site.

  • Chael Straub

    Oh man… I need to workout!

  • SonOfKings

    It is shocking to see how lean and relatively toned most people were back then. And I don’t think it is because they were all so “young.” I think it’s because they ate less voraciously and walked more frequently and further distances. On another note, there did seem to be a warmer sense of community then.

  • Masc Pride

    @Bumper: Looks like late 80’s and 90’s.

    @SonOfKings: I noticed the same things. With the exception of the one of the guys in tutus, it also seemed like guys were a bit more manly back then too. Unfortunately that crowd has been replaced with young, immature, malnourished, bitchy, argumentative, “genderqueer” twinks.

  • jerry_pritikin

    Vintage? My photos are from the mid 70s! Since I can not attached them here…. visit:
    and my blog

    or just do a google image search on my name and see what Vintage means!

  • flexdoc

    This was before gay men decided that they wanted to be mainstream, with picket fences and babies. I preferred it back then to be quite frank.

  • dennynova

    Jeez. I knew/know the guy in the baby blue tank in the last pic. Having lived through the ’70s and ’80s in DC and working at the Lost and Found and The Pier, I could go on for hours. But I won’t. My best friend wants us to sit down with a ghost writer and just spill it and write book.

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