Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Obervations from the Village 6.28

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin (or sexual orientation) but by the content of their character."
Martin Luther King Jr.

This is the 42nd anniversary of the Stonewall riots that took place after a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in the Village. I was born over a dozen years after the riots and I never really knew that much about them. I did know it was the moment when the modern gay civil rights movement was born but honestly it was as far away from my life as the Vietnam War was from my hate of our current wars. As a teenager I had my own battles to fight and didn't realize that I could do so only because of something that happened years before at a spot only blocks from where I now live.

I stood outside the Stonewall a couple nights ago, my minor celebration of the passing of New York's gay marriage law, and decided I needed to know more. If I felt the need to be there shouldn't I know why? I'm not going to get into the whole story of the riots, there is plenty to read online, but a maybe a little background. In the scheme of history it isn't all that long ago but at the time gays were classified as subversives by the U.S. government. The names of people arrested for public indecency, which included men holding hands or women wearing men's suits, were published in newspapers. Being gay was actually considered a mental illness.

On June 27, 1969, the NYC police force raided a popular Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. Raids on gay bars were commonplace, the Stonewall itself was raided just a week before, but this night something was very different. For whatever reason the subversive, indecent, psychopathic gays fought back and a movement was born. The city was stunned that the normally docile gays had turned into what the Village Voice called the "forces of faggotry." In the days that followed a pamphlet was printed and handed out on Christopher Street that in ways could be considered the first gay declaration of equality. Rather than add it here I posted it separately just before this post along with a link to the full episode of PBS's recent "American Experience, Stonewall Uprising" which is well worth watching even if it is at times disturbing as hell. (link)

Nicholas Edsall wrote "Stonewall has been compared to any number of acts of radical protest and defiance in American history from the Boston Tea Party on. But the best and certainly a more nearly contemporary analogy is with Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955, which sparked the modern civil rights movement."

In the end it doesn’t matter who started it, it doesn’t matter why it started, it probably doesn’t matter what really happened those nights. All that matters is that it happened.

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