Sunday, March 17, 2013

Homo Bride and Groom Restored to Dignity

So here we have another vintage image of two men that just begged for a little research. It's showed up in variety of websites aggregating images that are labeled as vintage gay couples. Each depiction lacks any information (here, here, here, and here). Who is this "homo bride and groom" marching down the aisle toward matrimonial bliss?

I want to know.

A quick search revealed that the images came from an article that appeared in Jet Magazine on September 21 1967. Whomever took the original screen caps kept the pictures but removed most of the identifying information (along with a lot of the obvious homonegative text).

Here are the facts that I know:

  • The two men are John Knockhart, a 24 year old from Belgium and Henyrk Rietra, a 26 year old who owned Rotterdam's "famous Welcome Bar." 
  • In attendance was best man, Pieter Maas and a small group of friends and family.
  • The Catholic priest Father Omtzigt officiated over the ceremony.
  • Bishop Martien Antoon Jansen defended the priest saying he was tricked into the ceremony.

That's not bad for a quick Google image search. It was enough to give me a trail to follow this story.

At first I thought the trail was going to run dry. Simple Google searches gave up nothing about who these two men were. My first tantalizing lead was this image of a sugar packet. This is, apparently, all that is left of the "famous Welcome Bar" that Rietra owned. The sugar packet, however, has an address. I followed that address and found an African art gallery. I've emailed the gallery owners, Kathy van der Pas and Steven van de Raadt, to see if they might know anything about our young couple or the business that apparently once stood where their gallery is currently located. I'll keep you posted.

The sugar packet, however, wasn't the end of the line. A search for Rietra took me to a webpage that was in Italian. Thanks to Google, reading Italian (which I don't) is unnecessary. A click of a button and the web page is (poorly) translated into English.

In 1967 Henryk Rietra and Jean Knockhaert, two men of 26 and 24 years respectively, are joined in marriage in Broederkappellet Rotterdam by Catholic priest JZ Omtzigt.

So we have at least another reference to these two men and their marriage. John Knockhart has now become Jean Knockhaert. The correct spelling of Knockhaert's name gives me some new leads. 

Jean and Henryk (sometimes listed as Harry) had a photographer, Robert Lantos,  on hand the day of their wedding. Some of those photographs have been archived in The Netherlands National News Agency (ANP) Photo Archives at the Memory of The Netherlands Project. I've emailed the reference librarian at the Koninklijke Bibiliotheek, the National Library of the Netherlands, to see if they might have some additional resources.

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At least for now, this is as far as I can travel in learning about the "homo bride and groom" that appeared in Jet Magazine. These two young men were courageous in their very public declaration of love and at the forefront of the liberatory movements of the 60s and 70s. It very well may be the first modern same sex wedding held in a church. I have found images of a same sex wedding in Philadelphia that took place within a home in 1957.

It's sad to me that the only part of their story that seems to remain is a homonegative laden pictorial in Jet Magazine, a couple of obscure blog posts making reference to their marriage, and some archived black and white images.

Rietra and Knockhaert are now in their early 70s. Perhaps one of them--or a friend--might Google their names and find this. If they do, I hope they contact me. I'd like to hear their story and help the world share this couple's love story. They deserve that dignity along with our respect and thanks.

Here is the entire article from Jet magazine. The author, Charles Sanders, died in 1990.

For more images of vintage men and their relationships (some gay, some straight) visit: Two Men and Their DogAdam and Steve in the Garden of Eden: On Intimacy Between MenA Man and His DogThe Beasts of West PointVintage Men: Innocence Lost | The Photography of William GedneyIt's Only a Paper Moon;Vintage Gay America: Crawford BartonThese Men Are Not Gay | This Is Not A Farmer | DisfarmerDesire and Difference: Hidden in Plain SightCome Make Eyes With Me Under the Anheuser BushHugh Mangum: Itinerant PhotographerTwo men, Two PosesPhotos are Not Always What They Seem,Vintage Sailors: An Awkward RealizationThree Men on a HorseWelkom Bar: Vintage Same Sex MarriagePretty in Pink: Two Vintage Chinese MenMemorial Day Surprise: Vintage Sailor LoveMemorial Day: Vintage Dancing SailorsThe Curious Case of Two Men EmbracingThey'll Never Know How Close We WereVintage Love: Roger Miller Pegram,Manly Affections: Robert GantHomo Bride and Groom Restored to DignityThe Men in the TreesThe Girl in the OuthouseTommy and Buzz: All My Love,Men in Photo Booths, and Invisible: Philadelphia Gay Wedding c. 1957. You can also follow me on Tumblr.

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