Tag Archives: Stonewall Uprising

July 8, 1969 (a Tuesday)

Edmund White (Feb 2009)

On this date, Edmund White, the author of A Boy’s Own Story (1982) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), among other books and essays, wrote a letter to his friends, poet Alfred Corn and his wife Ann, describing the Stonewall Uprising just a few days after the event. It reads in part:

Dear Ann and Alfred,

Well, the big news here is Gay Power. It’s the most extraordinary thing. It all began two weeks ago on a Friday night. The cops raided the <SW>, that mighty Bastille which you know has remained impregnable for three years, so brazen and so conspicuous that one could only surmise that the Mafia was paying off the pigs handsomely. Apparently, however, a new public official, Sergeant Smith, has taken over the Village, and he’s a peculiarly diligent lawman. In any event, a mammoth paddy wagon, as big as a school bus, pulled up to the Wall and about ten cops raided the joint. The kids were all shooed into the street; soon other gay kids and straight spectators swelled the ranks to, I’d say, about a thousand people. Christopher Street was completely blocked off and the crowds swarmed from the Voice office down to the Civil War hospital.

As the Mafia owners were dragged out one by one and shoved into the wagon, the crowd would let out Bronx cheers and jeers and clapping. Someone shouted “Gay Power,” others took up the cry — and then it dissolved into giggles. A few more gay prisoners — bartenders, hatcheck boys — a few more cheers, someone starts singing “We Shall Overcome” — and then they started camping on it. A drag queen is shoved into the wagon; she hits the cop over the head with her purse. The cop clubs her. Angry stirring in the crowd. The cops, used to the cringing and disorganization of the gay crowds, snort off. But the crowd doesn’t disperse. Everyone is restless, angry and high-spirited. No one has a slogan, no one even has an attitude, but something’s brewing.

Some adorable butch hustler boy pulls up a parking meter, mind you, out of the pavement, and uses it as a battering ram (a few cops are still inside the Wall, locked in). The boys begin to pound at the heavy wooden double doors and windows; glass shatters all over the street. Cries of “Liberate the Bar.” Bottles (from hostile straights?) rain down from the apartment windows. Cries of “We’re the Pink Panthers.” A mad Negro queen whirls like a dervish with a twisted piece of metal in her hand and breaks the remaining windows. The door begins to give. The cop turns a hose on the crowd (they’re still within the Wall). But they can’t aim it properly, and the crowd sticks. Finally the door is broken down and the kids, as though working to a prior plan, systematically dump refuse from the waste cans into the Wall, squirting it with lighter fluid, and ignite it. Huge flashes of flame and billows of smoke.

Now the cops in the paddy wagon return, and two fire engines pull up. Clubs fly. The crowd retreats.

(. . .)

This last weekend, nothing much happened because it was the Fourth of July and everyone was away. Charles Burch has decided it’s all a drag. When he hears that gay kids are picketing Independence Hall in Philly because they’re being denied their constitutional rights, he says: “But of course, the Founding Fathers didn’t intend to protect perverts and criminals.” Who knows what will happen this weekend, or this week? I’ll keep you posted.

Although White is known as a novelist whose work has been widely praised by such writers as Vladimir Nabokov and Susan Sontag, it is as a cultural critic that White has perhaps had his greatest influence. Urbane, knowing, sophisticated, he has chronicled gay life in the seventies through the nineties with wit and insight. His pioneering book The Joy of Gay Sex: An Intimate Guide for Gay Men to the Pleasures of a Gay Life (1977), written with Dr. Charles Silverstein, introduced millions, gay and straight and curious alike, to a brave new world of sexual practices and lifestyle.

Suggested Reading:

  • Letter published in David Bergman, ed., The Violet Quill Reader and Lisa Grunwald, Stephen J. Adler, eds. Letters of the Century: America, 1900-1999.

June 28, 1969 (a Sunday)

Stonewall Inn (Sept 1969) - The sign in the window reads: We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village—Mattachine

In the early morning hours on Sunday, 28 June 1969, police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a small bar located on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Although mafia-run, the Stonewall, like other predominantly gay bars in the city, got raided by the police periodically.

But for some reason, the crowd that had gathered outside the Stonewall, a crowd that had become campy and festive and had cheered each time a patron emerged from the bar, soon changed its mood. No one knows for sure who threw the first punch. Some say it was a drag queen, while others claim it was a butch lesbian, who initially defied the police.

The first Stonewall Riot ended the morning of Saturday, June 28. That night the second riot broke out, as thousands of demonstrators — in the name of Gay Pride — flocked to the streets in front of and around the Stonewall Inn. Once again there were confrontations with the police until the early morning hours. Disturbances continued nightly for several days – the last occurred on the evening of Wednesday, July 2.

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more about “Stonewall: Footprints in Gay History“, posted with vodpod

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Stonewall Inn (2003)

Gay and lesbian activism certainly existed prior to this time, but the confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City catalyzed the movement and inspired gay men and lesbians to move their cause to entirely new heights utilizing entirely new tactics.

In 1999 the United States government proclaimed the Stonewall Inn as a national historic site. The following year, the status of the Stonewall was improved to “historic landmark,” a designation held by only a small percentage of historical sites.

Forty years after the Stonewall uprising, President Obama became the first president to recognize its significance by declaring June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month:

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:
A PROCLAMATION

Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born. During LGBT Pride Month, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans.

LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society. There are many well-respected LGBT leaders in all professional fields, including the arts and business communities. LGBT Americans also mobilized the Nation to respond to the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic and have played a vital role in broadening this country’s response to the HIV pandemic.

Due in no small part to the determination and dedication of the LGBT rights movement, more LGBT Americans are living their lives openly today than ever before. I am proud to be the first President to appoint openly LGBT candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration. These individuals embody the best qualities we seek in public servants, and across my Administration — in both the White House and the Federal agencies — openly LGBT employees are doing their jobs with distinction and professionalism.

The LGBT rights movement has achieved great progress, but there is more work to be done. LGBT youth should feel safe to learn without the fear of harassment, and LGBT families and seniors should be allowed to live their lives with dignity and respect.

My Administration has partnered with the LGBT community to advance a wide range of initiatives. At the international level, I have joined efforts at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Here at home, I continue to support measures to bring the full spectrum of equal rights to LGBT Americans. These measures include enhancing hate crimes laws, supporting civil unions and Federal rights for LGBT couples, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, ensuring adoption rights, and ending the existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in a way that strengthens our Armed Forces and our national security. We must also commit ourselves to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic by both reducing the number of HIV infections and providing care and support services to people living with HIV/AIDS across the United States.

These issues affect not only the LGBT community, but also our entire Nation. As long as the promise of equality for all remains unfulfilled, all Americans are affected. If we can work together to advance the principles upon which our Nation was founded, every American will benefit. During LGBT Pride Month, I call upon the LGBT community, the Congress, and the American people to work together to promote equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
first day of June, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.

BARACK OBAMA

Pride Guide 2009

In the forty years since the Stonewall uprising, its anniversary has been celebrated every June, officially or unofficially, in more and more places around the world. This usually involves a parade referred to as a “Gay Pride Parade.” To some non-homosexuals, reserving a day or month to be proud of being gay seems odd – as odd as a “Straight Pride Parade” for heterosexuals would seem.

However, the reason that Gay Pride is necessary today is that for centuries, homosexual men and women have been persecuted, prosecuted, tortured, and killed in many cultures for simply being who they are. Homosexuals were told that they are “worse than” the rest of the population and, conversely, heterosexuals believed that they are “better than” homosexuals. Gay Pride is an effort to tell society that homosexual people are neither worse than nor better than everyone else. In other words, Gay Pride is an effort to normalize the self-esteem of gay people, not to disrespect anyone else. If the tables are turned and straight people ever suffer similar oppression from homosexuals, then perhaps every straight person will understand the need for Pride events.