June 19th, 2015 (WPVI) --Fifty years ago, this month, Philadelphia served as the birthplace of the gay rights movement with a protest on Independence Mall. And now, just a few blocks away, Philadelphia's African American Museum is paying tribute to that history with a new exhibition.
It's called Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene, and it showcases the work of New Jersey-based photographer Gerard Gaskins who spent years visiting 'houses' for the LGBT community in Philadelphia, New York, Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
"I think some of the imagery that stands out the most to me are images that show the community and the joyousness of the celebration and the camaraderie and the strength," says Leslie Guy, the Museum's Director of Curatorial Services.
For an often marginalized community, the houses serve as a safe haven and provide a surrogate family and support system to those who may have been ostracized by friends and family.
"The houses give people the freedom to be themselves and also the love and support that we all need," says Guy, "houses have their own rules. Houses are moral support, financial support, anything that you would find in what one might consider to be a traditional family can be found in a house."
The House balls are events designed to showcase personal expression and gain acceptance, with competitive dances and performances.
"Legendary is not just a title, it's also a status," says Guy, "it's an honorific title that really connotes how skilled someone is in performance."
While Gaskin's images have been exhibited worldwide, Guy says this is the premiere of his Philadelphia-based work that includes candid shots from the Balls and also formal portraits, "you as a viewer have a one-on-one encounter with this individual who is asking you to truly see them for who they are."
Legendary is on exhibit through August 16th. For tickets and museum hours, go to www.AAMPMuseum.org.