NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — On the eastern end of Fire Island, a community called Cherry Grove has been a safe haven for members of the LGBTQ community for decades.

A new photo exhibit provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives and lifestyles there in the 1950s, CBS2’s Cindy Hsu reported.

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An open air exhibition at the New York Historical Society celebrates the rich history of LGBTQ+ life and culture in a small Fire Island community.

“The looks on their faces and the joy and the freedom, and just the camp and the extravagance of it,” said co-curator Parker Sargent.

The images are part of the new photo exhibit Safe/Haven: Gay Live in 1950s Cherry Grove.

“Pre-Stonewall, you’re seeing gay people be so out, be so proud,” Sargent said. “These pictures are now going to become part of that global understanding of gay life. It’s providing us a missing piece that we didn’t have.”

Sargent said locating images from that era was part of the challenge in putting the exhibit together.

“You couldn’t necessarily go get that film developed,” she said. “So for us, finding these pictures and seeing it come to life, it’s pretty amazing.”

The photographs illustrate the freedom of personal expression that is a hallmark of Cherry Grove. But Sargent said there was still a fear of persecution back then.”

“For so many, you know, this is the McCarthy Era, the Lavender Scare,” she said.

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Headlines from that era demonstrate how fragile self-expression could be.

“No same-sex dancing,” Sargent said. “The police were still coming to enforce these sort of silly laws.”

Arrests could have devastating effects on jobs and families when names were published, she said.

“The one key element was, the police had to be on that last ferry or they weren’t getting home this evening,” said Sargent. “So after midnight, there really was a freedom.”

That’s when the local way of life shined.

Theater was a cornerstone.

“It is, today, given historical credibility as the longest running LGBTQ theater in the United States,” Sargent said.

Evident throughout the exhibit is the celebration of the lives and culture once kept in the shadows.

“When people see these photos, gay, straight, or not, it’s going to add to the understanding of what LGBTQ+ means today,” Sargent said.

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The exhibition runs through October 11 and is free with a timed ticket. Click here for more information.

Cindy Hsu