© Grey Villet, 1971, Gay rights event

In late 1971, two years after the Stonewall riots in New York sparked the modern gay rights movement in America, and twelve months before LIFE ceased publishing as a weekly, the magazine featured an article on “gay liberation” that, seen a full 40 years later, feels sensational, measured and somehow endearingly, deeply square all at the same time.

For its part, LIFE introduced its 1971 feature in language that certainly feels more “Us vs. Them” than what we might see in a similar article today, but it’s also language that, four decades on, has about it a sense of an old world trying — really trying — to get a handle on the new:

It was the most shocking and, to most Americans, the most surprising liberation movement yet. Under the slogan “Out of the closets and into the streets,” thousands of homosexuals, male and female, were proudly confessing what they had long hidden. They were, moreover, moving into direct confrontation with conventional society. Their battle was far from won. But in 1971 militant homosexuals showed they they were prepared to fight it…They resent what they consider to be savage discrimination against them on the basis of a preference which they did not choose and which they cannot — and do not want to — change. And while mist will admit that “straight” society’s attitudes have caused them unhappiness, they respond to the charge that all homosexuals are guilt-ridden and miserable with the defiant rallying cry “Gay is Good!” (read more)

© Grey Villet, April 1954, Grey Villet’s feet dangling over Fifth Avenue

Read an interesting article on Grey Villet on Lens.

© Grey Villet, April 1965, The Lovings, King and Queen County, Virginia

Richard and Mildred Loving with their children Peggy, Donald, and Sidney in their living room.

The Loving Story, opening at New York’s ICP this week (Jan. 20 – May 6, 2012) is a revelation, an undiscovered gem. In 1958, when Richard and Mildred Loving got married, it was an astonishing act of bravery and defiance: an interracial couple in the era of the Ku Klux Klan and Bull Connor - of firehoses and police dogs and lynchings; the Birmingham bombings and Freedom Rides were still to come. And yet here, in the midst of all the mayhem and hate, are a white man and a black woman casually interwined, so comfortable in their own skin that they are oblivious to onlookers; their armor is their love.

The compelling thing about the Lovings is that they are exquisitely ordinary. Only a photographer who can make himself invisible could capture that. There was never anything fancy about Grey’s pictures; they stripped people to their essence.

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© Grey Villet, April 1965, Richard and Mildred Loving laugh while watching television in their living room

The documentary The Loving Story premieres February 14th on HBO (thanks to neufrucht):

(read more here, here, here, here and here)

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