40 Years After Stonewall
From Smash the Church to Going to the Chapel
By TOMMI AVICOLLI MECCA
June 19 - 21, 2009
The struggle for queer rights hasn't been a smooth ridebut as a
19-year-old Italian American in South Philly running around in halter
top and platform shoes in 1970, I wouldn't have expected it to be!
None of us who participated in gay liberation protests in the early
70s expected an easy pathbut we also didn't think that 40 years
later some of the most important issues we raised would be ignored by
the very movement we created.
It all started outside the Stonewall Inn, a West Village gay bar, in
the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. Cops didn't get their
regular payoff from the owners, so they raided the joint. The street
queens who had nothing to lose didn't go along with the plan. They
tossed high heels and other objects at the men in blue, and one of
the most famous and colorful riots of the sexual liberation era followed.
It wasn't the first time that those who lived on the outskirts of the
Straight American Dream expressed dissatisfaction with business as
usual. There had been skirmishes as early as 1959. That night at the
Stonewall, though, things didn't return to normal, as they always
had in the past.
Three days of unrest and rioting gave birth to the Gay Liberation
Front (GLF). GLF's membership wasn't the well-mannered ladies and
gentlemen from the "homophile" organizations who, since 1949, had
pleaded gently for acceptance, and who made sure to dress
"appropriately" when marching or demonstrating.
GLFers came from the rank and file of the civil rights, antiwar,
feminist and hippie movements. They were jeans-and-t-shirt-clad
shit-kickers who didn't take "No" for an answer. They made coalitions
with the Black Panthers and radical feminists. Forget marriage or
gays in the military. Like their straight leftist counterparts, they
longed for a revolution that would liberate all oppressed peoples,
and smash the church and state.
Compromise wasn't an idea they recognized.
With skills learned from dodging tear gas and even bullets at antiwar
sit-ins and demos on campuses across America, we pulled off stunts
like invading and disrupting TV newscasts to protest the media's
blackout on coverage of our activities. Our in-your-face tactics
helped to force the American Psychiatric Association to drop
homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses after we seized
control of its annual meeting. We ended the barbaric practice of
aversion therapy on gay men, and celebrated coming-out as a gay rite
But as with so many movements of that time, the radical agenda didn't
last. By the late 70s, a more mainstream movement had emerged. Gay
rights bills were pushed through legislatures, inroads made with
certain Protestant denominations, support gained from the Democratic
Party. By the time AIDS hit the headlines in the early 80s, a
moderate gay establishment was entrenched in most big cities. The
collectively-run, Socialist-oriented newspapers of GLF had turned
into private ownership enterprises. The communes were gone and gay
ghettos such as the Castro were gentrifying. And the new GLBT
leadership didn't acknowledge that the successes that had paved the
way for its new campaigns were built on multi-issue coalitions and an
agenda that incorporated the voices of many.
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the birth of gay liberation,
it's obvious that four decades of LGBT struggle has given us a lot,
such as gay marriage in four states.
But the new LGBT leadership often abandons multi-issue coalitions and
an agenda that stressed social as well as economic justice. In order
to attract advertisers, gay publishers perpetuate the myth of a gay
middle-class with limitless disposable income, and the needs of our
working class, poor and homeless are largely ignored.
A May 2009 study, "Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual
Community," from UCLA's Williams Institute proves the falseness of
that myth. It's no surprise: 20-40% of homeless kids in America are
queer, and in the Bay Area, 75% of transgenders are not employed
full-time. In San Francisco, 40% of gay men with AIDS are unstably
housed or homeless.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign, the country's leading national
queer organization, ignores homelessness and poverty altogether, and
wants Congress to pass a federal gay rights bill that doesn't include
transgenders, the group that needs protection the most.
Forty years later, I don't regret the bumpy ride, but I do wish that
the values we stood forsocial and economic justice for allhad
become an integral part of a movement that is now obsessed with
merely taking that trip down the aisle.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca, a former member of GLF/Temple University, is
editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay
Liberation, which has just been published by City Lights Books.
Stonewall Riots - 40 Years On
Published: 19 June 2009
It kicked started gay rights, but what's Stonewall's relevance today?
YOU'VE BEEN TREATING US LIKE SH*T ALL THESE YEARS. UH-UH. NOW IT'S
OUR TURN!" SYLVIA (RAY) RIVERA, STONEWALL VETERAN
On June 28 2009, it will be 40 years since the Stonewall Riots in New
York City - the revolutionary event that is commonly referred to as
the start of the gay rights movement.
American society in the 1950s and 1960s was rabidly homophobic, the
FBI and police departments kept lists of known gay people, their
favoured establishments, and friends. Bars catering to gay people
were shut down, and their customers were arrested and exposed in
newspapers. Cities performed "sweeps" to rid neighbourhoods, parks,
bars, and beaches of homosexuals. They outlawed the wearing of
opposite gender clothes, and universities expelled instructors
suspected of being gay. Thousands of gay men and lesbians were
jailed, fired, or institutionalized in mental hospitals. Many lived
double lives, keeping their private lives secret from their professional ones.
The riots kicked off after police raided the Stonewall Inn - a gay
bar - in the heart of New York's bohemian Greenwich Village in the
early hours of June 28 1969. Instead of fleeing or quietly going
along with the police as was the norm, the 200 strong crowd in the
Inn fought back.
Stonewall veteran Jim Fouratt told Attitude magazine:" The police
weren't use to queers getting uppity and began to make arrests."
By this point a crowd had began to grow outside the Inn, the raid
wasn't going to plan and one woman who had been arrested managed to
break free of the patrol car and her handcuffs and started to play the crowd.
Fouratt added: "She pushed her bulky body against the car and that
was the spark that changed everything. And it wasn't a political
person, it wasn't planned, it was just one of those moments in
history that happened."
From that point on disparate elements of New York's queer scene came
together and the riots escalated and raged for days.
For the last 40 years people having been debating why Stonewall
flared up when it did; perhaps the most bizarre is that the queer
community were so cut up by Judy Garland's death the week before,
that the death of Dorothy sparked the riots! It seems the reality is
that the raid was the straw that broke the camels back! The Stonewall
Inn was home to the homeless gay street kids who were no strangers to
Police run ins. When it was raided, they fought for it.
LGF online have spoken to people on both sides of the Atlantic; some
of whom were there when the riots blazed and others who it has deeply
resonated with throughout their lives. We get their take on Stonewall
and its legacy.
PETER FISKE IS A STONEWALL VETERAN, ACTIVIST & RESIDENT OF SAN
FRANCISCO FOR 43 YEARS.
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. An age of
excess. It hardly seems possible that forty years have passed since
the queers fought back. When the cops came that night at 1AM June
28th 1969, to shut the Stonewall down because someone didn't pay-off
enough, to arrest and take people away and publish their names in the
Daily News the next day, it was the straw that broke the camels back
and the queens said "No More". No more raids closing our places, no
more arrests, no more second class.
I am a veteran of Stonewall: the bar not the riots, which lasted for
five nights and were the start of the modern LGBT liberation
movement. What a great place the Stonewall was!
Hustlers, drag queens, Puerto Ricans, latinos, blacks, white guys
from the suburbs, leather men, dykes...they all came to dance and
hang out together. Think of the hottest dance club ever and that just
starts to describe the Stonewall.
This year, the 40th anniversary of Stonewall and the Gay Liberation
Front, we have much to celebrate. They don't arrest us for gay sex or
just being somewhere. We don't usually lose our jobs if we are outed
at work, but we are still fighting for the full equality promised
under the Constitution of the United States. Our relationships are
still not recognised, we cannot bring a partner to this country but
must choose between partner and country. We cannot openly serve our
country in the military. In some states, we still have no employment
protection. Our children are harassed and bullied in schools...and
taken from us. Sometimes we are murdered just for being different and
hated…how many transgender people have been killed just for being
different? So we fight on.
To celebrate this milestone, San Francisco LGBT Pride has placed the
Stonewall Gay Liberation Front contingent in the lead position at
Pride, right behind Dykes on Bikes.
For those of us who were there, it is a time of remembrance and to
reconnect. For all LGBT people it should be a time to remember and
reconnect with our shared history. Because of Stonewall and the Gay
Liberation Front and all the other groups and individuals, we live
our lives openly and without fear. We still fight on but each day we
win a bit more ground.
Anyone who believes in the principle of liberation is welcome to join
us at Pride no matter what your age, gender, race or income level. We
are the Stonewall - Gay Liberation Front 40th Anniversary contingent.
We will have a 15 foot long banner with the purple raised and gloved
fist that says Gay Freedom- Gay Power.
On 26 May 2009 I was arrested for non-violent civil disobedience
protesting the cowardly decision that took away our marriage rights.
There were over 170 of us including over 30 clergy who were arrested
with us. So the struggle continues. We need to follow the wise
council of Harvey Milk: Come out. Get allies by supporting other
minorities and poor and working people. Keep working and never give
up. You gotta give em hope. By doing these simple things we continue
to fight back and stand up for ourselves. Silence = Death Action = Life.
Just before I was arrested, I told the reporter from the Chronicle "
Its a damn shame I still have to do this after forty years."
I feel great hope. I have seen a new generation of activists who will
never settle for anything less than full equality and who are making
it happen every day. They inspire me and I hope they inspire you too.
See you at Pride in San Francisco on June 28th, the actual 40th
anniversary of Stonewall. I will be proudly wearing my leather and my
large pin that says Stonewall veteran. Take some time that day to
remember those drag queens and hustlers and leather guys and homeless
youth who had the courage to fight back at Stonewall."
ROBERT WOODWORTH, LGBT COMMUNITY CENTRE, NEW YORK CITY
"How did a commonplace police raid on a seedy bar in Greenwich
Village become a world-wide symbol of gay and now lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender pride?
Because we told the story over and over for 40 years.
Stonewall became remarkable because people created the Christopher
Street Liberation Day March on the first anniversary in 1970 and
repeated it. Every June since then, we have marched and mythologized
the event so that it has taken on a meaning greater than what
happened during the 1969 riots or as some would prefer to say rebellion.
The symbol has been carried around the world, even though very few
people know much about the raid and the unrest it provoked.
Regardless of the accumulation of meaning over time, the moment of
Stonewall and what came immediately afterwards marked a significant
change. Sodomy was Still a crime, but instead of hiding, they
celebrated being outlaws. Their numbers grew and they told their
stories and celebrated in public. That was new. Coming out was far
from a universal experience, but it had started. After Stonewall
there was something to come out into.
What followed was a stream of organizing and
institution-building. Right after Stonewall came the Gay Liberation
Front (GLF), Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), STAR (Street Transvestite
Action Revolutionaries) the Lavender Menace, Lesbian Feminist
Liberation, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG), among
many others. They were followed by and in some cases gave birth to
the first national organizations, such as the National Gay Task
Force and Lambda Legal Defence & Education Fund. Today organizations
abound in many fields to strive for many ends.
Looming large in any story of LGBT people is the AIDS
epidemic. Heartache, tragedy and superhuman organizing efforts
overshadow almost everything else in 1980s and 1990s. The community
grew up in order to battle the disease. That story is so daunting to
tell that one is tempted not to mention it in a short piece. But
even if it can't be told, a nod to the activism and
institution-building of that period is essential to understand how
the community has achieved the successes of the last number of years.
No one can tell the whole story of the last 40 years. In 1979, most
corporate employees were so terrified that they would lose their jobs
that they couldn't join a gay business group even one that didn't
use the words gay and lesbian in its name. This June, I sat on a
panel in the Stock Exchange Board Room with the lesbian diversity
officer of a major accounting firm, moderated by an anchor from CBS
TV news. What are we there to talk about? What Stonewall means and
how the community has changed in 40 years. In that moment, we were
JACKIE CROZIER, MANCHESTER PRIDE (UK)
"It's hard to believe it's 40 years since the inspirational Stonewall
Riots - the catalyst that started the gay and lesbian political
movement. Since then there have been many high profile Pride events
across the globe that progress the debate for equality as well as
being huge celebratory events. Manchester Pride is proud to continue
Progress achieved in the UK since the Stonewall Riots includes an
equal age of consent, the repeal of Section 28, the armed forces
permitting gay men and lesbians to serve, equal rights granted to
same sex couples applying for adoption, the introduction of civil
partnerships and outlawing discrimination on the provision of goods
and services on the basis of sexual orientation.
There are still areas in which the LGBT community face conflict and
inequality, therefore there is still something to fight for. The
Stonewall Riots started the fight, and though great progression has
been made, there is still a long way to go."
DAVID HENRY, QUEER YOUTH NETWORK (UK)
"The Stonewall Riots represented the tip of a very large iceberg, a
pinnacle point in civil rights history, a mass social uprising
against oppression, marginalisation and police brutality suffered by
people of many communities.
Mainstream Gay and Lesbian movements may have championed it's
recognition within the establishment, partially by right but also
through privileges not afforded to others directly involved with or
affected by the rebellion. The mafia-owned Stonewall Inn where the
riots became most violent, was where police came in to direct
confrontations with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised
people living in New York city at the time - not just the
predominately white, gay and lesbian middle classes. Street homeless
people both young and old, transsexuals, and sex workers; mostly from
poorer working class backgrounds or African American descent had
little to lose other than their lives by rioting.
Whereas many of those with jobs, homes and families who frequented
the bars of world's first "gay ghetto" in the Greenwich Village went
back to their "normal lives". Whilst those who were carried away in
police vans who are often forgotten about and their stories are
dropped from the history books.
At the time it was technically illegal to wear clothes that could
mean you were mistaken for another gender under clandestine
"imitation" laws. Many transgender people could not safely live full
time as one gender and were restricted to hiding in places like the
Stonewall Inn in relative safety. This continues today, even though
we've come a long way from Stonewall, society continues to impose
restrictions on our civil rights that prevent us from being who we are.
For most people the phrase "civil rights" tends to conjure up images
of Martin Luther King, the Suffragettes or Mahatma Gandhi. The
achievements of their respective movements transformed the world and
continue to do so. Their names have gone down in history, the values
they fought for are now firmly embedded within modern society, but
there can be no denying racial inequality, sexism and class divides
still haunt us around the world today. These battles continue to be
fought, and there are still elements of society determined to deny us
our human rights.
Since the 1960's not even the fall of the Berlin wall, the abolition
of apartheid in South Africa or the election of the first
African-American President have managed to halt the rise of the
far-right across Europe or around the globe. Notably the people of
California voted to criminalise same-sex marriage, and in Europe, the
UK elected it's ever first far-right members of parliament.
We must never forget the lessons history has taught us - such as the
Stonewall Riots - in ensuring the future of all our community's
fundamental freedoms we currently take for granted."
ANDREW GILLIVER, LESBIAN & GAY FOUNDATION (UK)
"I don't think we can underestimate the importance of Stonewall on
the modern LGBT rights movement.
It is ironic that our fellow American queers were fighting for
equality and inclusion in the 1960's, and still today it is America
that is far behind countries like the UK in accepting LGBT people.
If you were growing up gay or lesbian in post war America you faced
more anti-gay legislation than if you were growing up in Eastern Europe!
Ironically today we are still campaigning for the rights of LGBT
people across Europe, just as our American friends are across the
Sexual apartheid is still alive and well and if President Obama does
not address this soon, then who will?
For us over here in the UK, when we are enjoying Pride events from
big cities to small towns, we must remember that if it wasn't for the
Stonewall riots and those who fought back in the 1960's, Pride would
probably not exist.
Many countries around the world are still fighting to celebrate LGBT
pride and those of us that can do so freely must continue to lobby
politicians, increase our visibility and educate others on the
importance of equal rights both at home and abroad."
Stonewall has taught us exactly what the LGBT community is capable of
when we unite together. Let us know what Stonewall means to you by
leaving a comment below.
Get involved! Reflecting on Stonewall highlights the sacrifices and
fights that have gone before us, and that fight for equality still
exists today. To get involved, volunteer for your local LGBT charity
or organisation. To find out about volunteering opportunities at the
Lesbian and Gay Foundation, click here.
Donate! If you don't want to volunteer you can always donate to the
LGBT charity of your choice to help challenge homophobia and fight
inequality. To donate to the LGF, click here.
Tune into Tom Robinson's Radio 2 show Stonewall: The Riots That
Triggered The Gay Revolution on Tuesday 30 June.
Commemorating the 40th anniversary of Stonewall
By John Wright News Editor
Jun 18, 2009
Million Gay March of Texas
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday, June 28
WHERE: Parking lot of Kroger, 4142 Cedar Springs Road in Dallas
INFORMATION: For more info, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or
go to www.mgmtexas.org.
Organizers of the Million Gay March of Texas set for June 28 in
Dallas say they're hoping it can become a yearly event to
commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion.
This year's march, which will mark 40 years since the 1969 rebellion
that's credited with launching the gay rights movement, is expected
to draw between 2,000 and 3,000 people, according to Latisha McDaniel
and Daniel Cates, who co-chair the committee that's organizing the march.
The Million Gay March, billed as an LGBT equality protest, will
travel down Cedar Springs Road from Knight Street to Lee Park. It
will be followed by a political rally in the park, with speakers and
informational booths sponsored by local advocacy groups.
Cates said holding a similar event annually would allow Dallas
which unlike most major cities celebrates gay Pride in September to
participate in June's National Gay Pride Month.
"I would love for it to become an annual event," Cates said. "There's
really no reason Dallas shouldn't participate in some way in Pride month."
But both Cates and McDaniel stressed that the march is in no way be
intended to compete with Dallas' Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade,
which is scheduled for Sept. 20 this year.
"I would never propose that," Cates said. "That doesn't mean that we
can't do something for Pride month, and this could probably be that
Cates and McDaniel added that while it isn't intended to compete with
the September celebration, they believe the Million Gay March is
actually more in line with the original meaning of gay Pride.
"We have Pride, and Pride is Pride," McDaniel said, noting that the
Million Gay March won't include alcohol.
"It's basically for people to go out and get drunk and march down the
street in cute costumes," she said of Pride. "We need something that
actually represents what Pride started on. It started on a rebellion.
It started on the fact that people were sick and tired of being
discriminated against …
"I think we've kind of lost that in Dallas, the true meaning of
Pride," McDaniel added. "I think this would be a way of bringing back
what Pride really is. It's not going to take away from Pride. This is
not a party."
Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink, another member
of the committee that's planning the Million Gay March, said it will
be "a great event" and she's looking forward to people joining
together to celebrate the LGBT community's history. But Fink added
that she's unsure whether it would be feasible to organize a similar
event every year in Dallas.
"We have an enormous Pride parade in September that is well
publicized, and people really know about it," Fink said. "I don't
know that any event that's proposed to be annual in June will get the
same kind of response from the community.
"I've heard it thrown around," Fink said of the idea. "That's not
something the coalition of organizations [planning committee] has
really addressed at all. If there are rumblings among some that they
want to do that, that's on them. I don't think the coalition of
organizations has committed to that."
Michael Doughman, who oversees planning of Pride as executive
director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, said he isn't concerned about
the Million Gay March competing with the September celebration.
"I think they're two entirely different venues," Doughman said. "I
think one's very politically motivated, and we have always made a
conscious effort to try to keep politics and religion out of Pride.
We view Pride Sunday as a celebration, and everything that we do in
producing Pride is geared to that end."
Dallas celebrated Pride in June in the early 1980s, but it was moved
to September after a few years, purportedly to mark the anniversary
of a court ruling that temporarily threw out Texas' anti-sodomy statute.
Celebrating Pride in September allows Dallas to avoid the June Texas
heat, but Doughman said the best argument is that it also eliminates
competition with other cities.
Many people from Dallas travel to Pride in places like New York and
Chicago in June, he said, and the Big D's celebration has become a
national draw in September.
"If they have a vision of making this an annual event, and they can
secure funding for it, then I think they have every right to do it,"
he said of the Million Gay March. "I think anytime the community can
unite on any basis that's valid and come together and celebrate who
we are, it's a good thing.
"The march is no different from Black Tie Dinner or Purple Party or
any other event," he said. "The fact is they're four months apart,
and I'm not concerned about us ever losing our audience for Pride.
Even if it did evolve into something that was more similar to Pride
and the festival, there are still four months between them."
Cates and McDaniel said this week that organizers have secured all
permits and park reservations needed for the Million Gay March, which
will begin in the parking lot of Kroger at 2 p.m. next Sunday.
They said Million Gay March organizers have distributed thousands of
fliers to promote the event over the last few weeks, and posters are
now hanging from Plano to Waxahachie. While 2,000 to 3,000 is the
official estimate, Cates said it's impossible to predict how many
"We've gotten an enormous response on Facebook and on MySpace, and my
phone never stops ringing and neither does hers [McDaniel's]," Cates said.
McDaniel said people are encouraged to arrive early for the march,
because no special parking has been set aside for the event.
Cates said participants should dress creatively or go shirtless
with body paint and bring their own signs and flags, although some
extras may be available.
"We're hoping to have a good visual effect," Cates said. "We
encourage everybody to bring as much Pride gear and rainbow-colored
everything as they can possibly come up with."
Million Gay March participants should also bring and drink plenty of
water, he added. The average high for June 28 in Dallas is 94
degrees, with a record of 112 in 1980.
McDaniel and Cates they expect the march to take about 30 minutes,
with the rally in Lee Park extending from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The rally will be MC'd by Rick Vanderslice, and confirmed speakers
include Cece Cox, Blake Wilkinson and Chastity Kirven. The featured
musical guest will be Gary Floyd, and booths in the park will be
sponsored by Stonewall Democrats, SMU's Spectrum, Dallas County Young
Democrats, LULAC, DGLA and Queer LiberAction. Political organizations
but not social groups can still apply for booths in the park, but
after Monday, June 22, the price will go from $100 to $150.
Cates and McDaniel said the march will cost significantly less than
once expected, largely because it's been classified by the city as a
political demonstration as opposed to a parade/celebration. Dallas
police will assist with traffic control and security in the park.
The committee has held a handful of fundraisers for the event,
bringing in well over $6,000. All leftover proceeds from the march
will go to the Phil Johnson Historic Archives and Library at Resource
The Million Gay March of Texas was initially conceived this spring as
part of a national effort to commemorate the 40th anniversary of
Stonewall, coordinated by the Grassroots Equality Network. However,
since then the Grassroots Equality Network has provided little
support, with planning for the march left in the hands of the local
committee that's been meeting weekly.
"At a certain point, I was really worried about things, but now it's
all coming together," Cates said. "The community has really pulled
together and pulled this off."
McDaniel said the co-chairs and the committee have learned some
lessons the hard way, but she said that those lessons will come in
handy in future years, when she's hoping to see more organizations involved.
"I believe as long as there's something we have to fight for, there's
a reason to march," she said. "I'm hoping one day we won't have to
march, but obviously for the next 10 years I can see us having a
march like this every year. Hopefully it will get bigger and people
will have something to look forward to."