Stamps Professor Holly Hughes and their wife, Professor Emerita Dr. Esther Newton, were recently interviewed by journalist Laura Flanders on their long involvement in queer activism for The Nation.
Esther Newton and Holly Hughes are cultural icons and makers of history. Esther Newton’s 1972 book Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America changed anthropology forever. It was the first major anthropological study in the United States of what would now be called an LGBT community. Holly Hughes, a writer and performer, started her career at the WOW Café in New York City, a place that calls itself the oldest continuously operating cultural institution for queer women and trans people. In the 1990s, Hughes was one of a group of artists whose federal grants were revoked in a right-wing backlash against queer art and self-expression. The debacle over the “NEA Four,” as they were known, led to the closing of the National Endowments Individual Artists Program and an anti-obscenity pledge that grant recipients were required to sign for years afterward. They have both survived wave after wave of culture wars. As a couple for more than 30 years, they say love, community, and queer kinship are essential for all of our survival.