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Pride month, and Richard Amsel's defining iconography

June is LGBTQ+ PRIDE MONTH, which has become a tradition in the United States following the Stonewall riots' gay liberation protests in 1969.

In recent years, Pride month has become an increasing phenomenon, now celebrated throughout many countries. And while public and social awareness and acceptance have been on the rise, the LGBTQ+ community still faces many, many struggles and hardships. Look no further than the "Don't Say Gay" laws in such states as Florida and Iowa; the increase of anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country; the ongoing fight over marriage equality; even the vehement backlash to pride-themed merchandise in stores. And that's just in the USA.

The movement is an important theme of our documentary, as Richard Amsel himself faced many personal challenges. He grew up in a time when being gay was not only scandalous but, in many ways, even dangerous. (Lest we forget that the American Psychiatric Association didn't even declassify homosexuality as a disorder until 1973.) The devastating rise of AIDS in the early 1980s also came in the face of the Reagan era -- one of the most catastrophically cruel and homophobic periods in modern American politics. And Amsel, of course, was one of the casualties.

The struggle -- and the pain -- continue.

I've loved Amsel's work ever since I was a child, but never knew any details about the man's life (much less his sexual orientation) until 2000. Looking back, it's remarkable to see how he created so many illustrations of 20th century LGBTQ+ icons. If J.C. Leyendecker's paintings of strapping, beautiful men captured coded homosexual messages within the commercial advertising of their time, Amsel's portraits of entertainment divas -- Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Liza Minnelli, Lucille Ball, and Marilyn Monroe among them -- are comparatively bold and defiant. These women remain celebrated gay icons to this day.


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