Keith SmithMargaret Gave me a Rainbow, 2:30pm 21 November, 1971, 1971, by Keith Smith, American, b. 1938. Collage of 3-M Color-in-Color photocopy transferred to buff-colored manila paper, gold star, multicolored thread, gelatin silver print, and rayon braid and tassels, hand and machine stitched to green plain weave cotton with gold rayon faille backing. Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York. © Keith Smith.

Like a Rainbow

by DoN Brewer

I graduated from high school in 1971 and was awarded a $50. savings bond for being ‘the most artistic’ in my class. I cashed in the bond and bought LSD. I’ve always felt like an artist, I didn’t realize artist is another word for faggot. It wasn’t until 1973 that homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association list of mental disorders in the DSM-II Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I’ve known I was attracted to men since I was a small child; fantasies of being around naked men began when I was about five years old. The Summer of Love in 1969 allowed me to begin to express myself as a hippie with long hair and wide bell bottoms; I remember my mom saying to me that I looked like a queer. I didn’t know what queer meant, I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings, I was harassed in the school hallways for the way I looked; my only solace was art class. When I was 16 we used to go to New York Avenue in Atlantic City, I had a fake ID and my best friend and I would spend all night at the gay bars that lined the street; I could be as effeminate as I felt without fear. I left home at 18 and in the Summer of 1973 I visited Provincetown on Cape Cod for the first time.

At the time P-Town, Fire Island and Key West were the only destinations where gay people could express themselves openly and show public displays of affection without fear of harassment, punishment, or condemnation. Frank Rizzo was Chief of Police in Philly and struck terror in the hearts of gay people; my fake ID got me entrance into some of the gay bars like Equis and the Allegro. Little did I know that the police had a squad of cops, who wore tight white jeans, that would hang out by the urinals and if they were cruised would arrest people. But the cops didn’t take them to jail, they took people down to the Schuylkill River, beat them up and tossed them in the river. Even worse if you got caught messing around in the bathroom at Strawbridge and Clothier your name would be published in the newspaper for all to see. The struggle was real. In Provincetown I was free to be me.

We would rent a small salt box house on the outskirts of town for $65. a week and ride our bikes to the shops, restaurants, galleries, and the beach. I loved the shops with the colorful, unique artifacts and I purchased my first rainbow objects – a stained glass rainbow and an embroidered rainbow patch. The stained glass still hangs in my window but it wasn’t until a few years ago I gained the nerve to sew the patch onto my jean jacket. When I saw Keith Smith‘s Margaret Gave me a Rainbow at The Philadelphia Museum of Art memories flooded my mind. I remembered marching down Walnut Street in the first gay pride parade in Philly, I remembered arguing with Rev. Carl McIntire on the radio because he thought the word ‘gay’ should be replaced with the word ‘sad’, I remembered my dad saying he didn’t care if I was gay as long as I didn’t take it up the ass, I remembered being told that I would be fired from J.M. Fields if I didn’t cut my hair, I remembered the beginning of AIDS and again living in fear for my life.

The rainbow flag was popularized as a symbol of the gay community by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978.

Like DoNArTNeWs Philadelphia Art News Blog on facebook

Follow DoN on Twitter @DoNNieBeat58

DoN Brewer on Pinterest

@donniebeat on Instagram

More DoNArTNeWs at

Affiliate Marketing Disclosure Statement

Donate via safe and secure PayPal in the sidebar.

DoNArTNeWs celebrating ten years reporting on Philadelphia art and artists.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Previous post:

Next post: