These questions reminded me of the first photograph of an identified lesbian to appear on the cover of the first U.S. lesbian magazine, The Ladder, which started in 1956. Until this time, drawings and photographs of women from behind or obscured were favored to protect the identity of individuals. That changed when Ger Van Braam appeared on the cover of the November 1964 issue. Van Braam was a subscriber to The Ladder and had written a letter published in the June 1964 issue. “Isolation in Jakarta” detailed the difficulty of trying to live as a homosexual and find friends and a romantic partner. Five months later, she wrote back to the editors to report that she had made a few other homosexual friends and found a romantic partner. She also stated that she was happy to have her letters and story published if the editors thought it would help others. She added that she was not ashamed or afraid and didn’t care what other people thought. Van Braam’s exuberant letter captures the importance of The Ladder to Van Braam and readers like her for both disseminating information and assuring them that they were not alone but part of a larger community. In turn, Van Braam gave back to this community by allowing the editors to publish her notes and picture.
Van Braam’s portrait underscores how the safety and community fostered by The Ladder empowered her, and how her courageous act made others feel safer in coming forward. This example illustrates how safety is created and multiplied and how it requires bravery on the part of individuals who inadvertently become role models. It shows how one small act can make a big difference. Safety is not always granted, but it can be built in and through community.