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.


Here is a link to watch the complete episode of PBS's "American Experience, Stonewall Riots" which aired not too long ago. The American Experience site says, “The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.”

Below is the text of a flyer handed out on Christopher Street in the days following the Stonewall Riots:

"Get The Mafia and Cops Out of the Gay Bars

The nights of Friday, June 27, 1969 and Saturday, June 28, 1969 will go down in history as the first time that thousands of Homosexual men and women went out into the streets to protest the intolerable situation which has existed in New York City for many years --- namely, the Mafia (or syndicate) control of this of this city's Gay bars in collusion with certain elements in the Police Dept. of the City of New York. The demonstrations were triggered by a Police raid on the Stonewall Inn late Friday night, June 27th. The purported reason for the raid was the Stonewall's lack of a liquor license.- Who's 'kidding whom here? Can anybody really-believe that an operation as big as the Stonewall could continue for almost three years just a few blocks from the 6th Precinct house without having a liquor license? No! The Police have know about the Stonewall operation all along. What's happened is the presence of new "brass" in 6th Precinct which has vowed to "drive the fags out of the Village."

Many of you have noticed one of the signs which the "management" of the Stonewall has placed outside stating "Legalize Gay bars and lick the problem. Judge Kenneth Keating (a former US Senator) ruled in January, 1968 that even close dancing between Homosexuals is legal. Since that date there has been nothing legal, per se, about a Gay bar. What is illegal about New York City's Gay bars today is the Mafia (or syndicate) stranglehold on them. Legitimate Gay businessmen are afraid to open decent Gay bars with a healthy social atmosphere (as opposed to the hell-hole atmosphere of places typified by the Stonewall) because of fear of pressure from the unholy alliance of the Mafia and elements in the Police Dept. who accept payoffs and protect the Mafia monopoly.

We at the Homophile Youth Movement (HYMN) believe that the only way this monopoly can be broken is through the action of Homosexual men and women themselves. We obviously cannot rely on the various agencies of government who for years have known about this situation but who have refused to do anything about it. Therefore we urge the following:

1) That Gay businessmen step forward and open Gay bars that will be run legally with competitive pricing and a healthy social atmosphere.
2) That Homosexual men and women boycott places like the Stonewall. The only way, it seems, that we can get the criminal elements out of gay bars is simply to make it unprofitable for them.
3) That the Homosexual citizens of New York City, and concerned Heterosexuals, write to mayor Lindsay demanding a thorough investigation and effective action to correct this intolerable situation."