Charlie Leslie on Fighting at Stonewall, Preserving Queer Art, and More

Charlie Leslie has spent the last 50 years showcasing and protecting queer art—and now his collection includes 30,000 pieces.

When police raided the Stonewall Inn in 1969, they were met with a fierce resistance that raged on for six days, and within that crowd was Leslie. That same month, he used his love for queer art to make a statement of visibility for gay and lesbian love, which would one day become the Leslie Lohman Museum.

At a time where homoerotic imagery was discredited as pornography, Leslie and his partner Fritz Lohman worked tirelessly to showcase these works of art. And, 50 years later, he’s still continuing his mission so that more people can view these inspiring works of art.

Art was one of the things that first bonded Leslie and Lohman, who both had distinct art collections. They began to travel and procure queer art together and their now-joint collection grew. The couple began showing the art in exhibitions, which served as somewhat of a protest against those who didn’t appreciate queerness and art that depicted it.

After the Stonewall riots, LGBTQ+ individuals were galvanized, and the need for pride-based art and action became bigger than ever. And when the AIDS epidemic struck the city, the couple felt more compelled to safe artwork and accounts of those who passed away.

“It became a crusade to us to save works that was absolutely endangered and very often destroyed, willfully, wontedly, disgustingly, destroyed,” he said.