Jonathan Ned Katz

Jonathan Ned Katz grew up in Greenwich Village in a house on Jane Street and attended the Little Red School House as a kid. There, he was encouraged to make art and found ways to discuss politics and other ideas with fellow “red diaper” babies, or children of members of the Communist Party. Although he found himself in a similar political milieu when he was later a student at the High School of Music & Art, he still felt the impact of the repressive politics of the 1950s, which was reflected in some of the visual art that he created at that time.

After the Stonewall riots, Katz became involved with activism within the gay community through the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). In 1972, the GAA produced his documentary play, Coming Out!, at the firehouse on Wooster Street. Katz then embarked on a much larger documentary project, his book, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA, which was published in 1976 at a time when producing such scholarship could “ruin” a career. But through this project especially, and through talking with other gay scholars over subsequent decades, Katz helped establish a network of gay men and lesbians that met regularly for informal group therapy, study, or consciousness raising over the following decades –– often in Greenwich Village in the house on Jane Street where Katz lived as a child –– enabling Katz, and others, to build the field of LGBT studies and public history.

In this interview, Katz also describes the unique approach to parenting that he experienced; his tenure as a designer at the Jack Prince Studio and the after-work conversations that enabled him to talk about sexuality and gender; anti-racism and the resistance of Black enslaved people; the importance of the naked male body in his artwork; and writing his memoir, Coming of Age in Greenwich Village: A Painter, His Paintings, His Life

Clip from Oral History

Transcript of Audio Clip

“I’m Jonathan Ned Katz. There are other Jonathan Katz’s. So it’s important to use my middle name. I’m a historian of LGBTQ+++ history, US history. I am a painter and artist. I’ve been an artist since I was a child. And I didn’t do it for a while, but I went back to it as an old person.”

“So my second book of documents came out in ‘83. So AIDS had begun, and it was a really important book in my personal development because it was different. It wasn’t just a collection of documents…the point was to show how different—things—are—at—different—times. And I feel I’ve lived through…completely different periods of US LGBT history. The totally repressive period I grew up in and the gay liberation period. So these were––like, I have become a different person that I could never have been if I hadn’t lived in the period where there was this movement that I could join up with. It helped me become a different person from who I was in this repressed Greenwich Village upbringing. So that’s a good example of why studying history is important. It shows us how different things can be, under different social systems, different social structures. That’s what’s happened. We––gays––by asserting ourselves, have changed the social structuring of homosexuality, of heterosexuality.”

Full Audio Oral History