~~June 16, 2019~~
STONEWALL RIOTS IN 1969
In May 1968, I graduated from high school. By June 1968, I was getting ready for college. The idea of being gay was far from mind except for the persistent feeling that I was ‘different’ on some way.
In the fall of 1969, I met Maryjane.
I still didn’t have a name. There was no east way to educate yourself or have someone else educate you on the topic. The books that were available were rare and treasured finds.
Time went on until the inevitable was discovered and hidden for several years.
Stonewall was the last thing on my mind.
Yet, today, I’m very grateful to the trailblazers who put their lives on the line, demanding equality and respect.
The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion) were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
David Carter summarizes the history and mystery in Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, the 2004 book considered to be the quintessential guide to Stonewall. The riots spanned six days and included three nights of so-called rioting between police and a diverse community of LGBTQ+ protesters. On the first night, the same police that had shown up to harass patrons, arrest a few gay people, and collect some cash, were overwhelmed.
They soon retreated into the very bar they had targeted and barricaded themselves inside, waiting for reinforcements to arrive and fighting off a barrage of coins, bricks, trash cans, and even a parking meter.
After help came, protesters were fought off, beaten, and a few were taken in. During those six days, police arrested 21 people. No one died during the riots – except for the Stonewall Inn itself, which soon after shut down and remained dormant for decades.
Within a matter of weeks, fallout from the riots tore through existing pro-LGBT, or – in the language of that era – homophile, organizations. Trailblazing radical groups formed with unprecedented demands for equality. Freshly minted LGBT magazines popped up, attracting tens of thousands of readers. Police raids continued, as did the abject criminality of queerness, but the breadth of resistance was increasing by the hour.
“By the early 1970’s, the number of gay and lesbian organizations soared to nearly four hundred,” historian and scholar Eric Marcus wrote in Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights. The first Pride march (on what was then called Christopher Street Liberation Day) came just one year after the riots to commemorate them.
It drew thousands across cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. Protests in those same cities became “commonplace,” Marcus wrote, ranging from kiss-ins at restaurants that wouldn’t serve LGBT would-be patrons to “on-air interruptions of national news programs.”
By 1972, Democratic presidential hopefuls “spoke favorably” of federal anti-discrimination protections.
The LGBT movement had phoenix-ed nearly overnight, the Stonewall episode today widely considered “the birth of the modern gay and lesbian political movement,” Martin Duberman wrote in Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America. First published in 1994 (the 25th anniversary of the riots), the book’s second edition was released on June 4.
And yet, the details of the riots and what precipitated them have become, as Carter puts it, “a bone of contention between various individuals and interest groups within and without the gay world.”
What kind of gay bar was Stonewall? What was a gay bar in 1969 like, anyway? Who went there? Who didn’t? Who protested? Who started it? Who threw the first brick? Was it the launching pad of the LGBT cause? Is it the source of capital P Pride? And what the hell is a modern political movement?
“There was no omniscient presence looking down at the scene,” Marcus told me, adding that the largely (if not wholly) anecdotal approach to deciphering Stonewall is problematic. “Memory is what we remember, how we wish to remember it, and how we wish to be remembered in it.”
And besides, Duberman tells me before laughing, “everyone was stoned.”
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‘Stonewall 50’ …. “ ‘The Daily Beast’ celebrates 50 Years of LGBTQ Resistance …. “!!
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