Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2019-02-13
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

50 Years On, Busting the Myths of Stonewall
by Mark Segal
2018-10-23

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Each of us who were at Stonewall has a different view of the event. They run the gamut from it being a rebellion, a riot, a revolution, or simply a night of the queens having fun and taking over their home, Christopher Street. There are many other versions espoused by people who were there, historical scholars, journalists, and people who like to make things up. Let's parse out the facts and inconsistencies of all of these views.

First: who was there? It amazed me, as I was on my book tour, how many people came up to me and said "you remember me from Stonewall" and wanted me to confirm to their friends that they were indeed there. This has been a contentious issue to the point that now thousands of people claim to have been present. To each I said, "It was a riot. You can't take attendance at a riot."

But there are ways to at least make assumptions on who was there. The best accounts are from those who, out of the ashes of Stonewall, created Gay Liberation Front. Many of us GLF members are still around. Stonewall was not just one night. Those who were there know of the other three nights as well. Those nights helped form GLF. GLF and Stonewall are connected at the hip. Writings on Stonewall published by our own community during the time period are more accurate, since mainstream media largely ignored it or was biased. A good place to start is Donn Teal's The Gay Militants, published by Stein and Day in 1971. Many of those at Stonewall contributed to Donn's work.

Here's my simple rule, anyone who propagates the myth that we were angry because of the funeral of Judy Garland wasn't at Stonewall. That myth is an insult to all that did participate. And it should be obvious, since we were in the counter culture of the 1960's, not the '40s. Garland might have been the music of some 40 and 50 year olds who might have been in the bar, but those people were privileged enough to run away. To those of us who stayed, Garland was not on our mind. It's a stereotypical slur that was started by a straight white man writing about the event a week later in the Village Voice. None of those who have credible claim to being there think Garland was a factor. So if you're writing about Stonewall and continue the myth, check your delusion in the mirror. That includes Charles Kaiser who, while being interviewed by The Washington Post about his book The Gay Metropolis, was quoted as saying he thought "the prospect that a funeral service for Garland held on the first night of the riots on the city's Upper East Side inspired a grieving gay fandom to stand up to police bullies." No.

Second: who threw the first rock? Again this was a riot, not an organized demonstration. People gathered in a semi circle around the front doors and across the street as police were letting people out. Something was said to the police, they said something back and then people started hurling objects towards the bar. Stones, empty cans. The reality is no one actually knows who threw first, or even what they threw.

Those of us who were at Stonewall all have different accounts, based on our own memories of that night, about what we did. It wasn't a precision march. Each person had a different experience. Some gathered at the door as people were let out, some ran up and down the streets letting others know what was happening and others wrote on the walls and streets "tomorrow night Stonewall," to help organize the rallies in the days after. To me, all the accounts of my brothers and sisters of GLF are correct since each account is their own personal memory and their different views on what created the riot. Everyone in GLF has a different perspective and I accept each person. Historians must take all of them in consideration in writing about that historic night, and thus far most of the work compiled has not done that well.

The two best known that come to mind are David Carter's Stonewall, which is more detailed and researched than anything that came before but written during a time of competing and conflicting views. Carter had to sift through the noise, he persevered, and his book can and should be used as a starting place to be built on. I personally hope he continues to research and others continue to forward him material. For my part I've recently sent him information on one of the bouncers/doormen who married a friend of mine and who still lives in NYC. I trust his research and hopes he'll chat with others that he did not have time for in his first edition. The other well-known Stonewall book, by Martin Duberman, focuses on just six people, overdramatizes the drama within the community, and is fueled by his personal, privileged agenda

As to the recent Roland Emmerich film, Stonewall, that was a complete disappointment. There is no actual video footage from that first Stonewall night, and the photos you've seen are from the other nights. Cell phones were not invented as yet. Everything you've seen in the film is a ( largely incorrect ) re-creation built upon the director's image, not ours. Several of us who were at Stonewall offered to help give the filmmakers detail and context, but none of us were asked to do so.

Moving on, exactly how many people were at Stonewall? It went on for many hours. Some people were there the entire time; others came later. Even more were just passing by. Was it 50 or 200? We all have different views. My personal thought is less than a hundred from noting the numbers of people on the street. The participants were scattered with the exception of those around the front door, which might make people think there were more people than there actually were.

Everything I've said thus far is from my own memory and from reading well-sourced materials. But here is what is absolutely known: from Stonewall came Gay Liberation Front. Without Gay Liberation Front, Stonewall would be as remembered as the Dewey's sit-in or the Compton's riot, both of which happened before Stonewall, but which the general public knows little about. GLF, which had many of those who stood tall that first night at Stonewall and who helped organize the following three nights, made that first night historic by realizing that it was the catalyst for change that our community needed. Some might say that Gay Liberation Front, born from the ashes of Stonewall, might be more important then Stonewall itself.

Many people in New York in June 1969 were fed up with the antiquated tactics of prior movements such as asking for "homosexual equality," as it was called by members of the Mattachine Society. Before Stonewall, several of the early GLF founders including Martha Shelley and Marty Robinson were attempting to create a new movement. Others like Sylvia Rivera also wanted a new movement, but few people at that time from those earlier organizations wanted to be associated with her.

GLF was created and Sylvia was welcomed gladly, the first trans person to be a member of a gay organization and GLF changed our community in other drastic ways. GLF helped us decide that we had the sole right to define ourselves rather than live by society's definition. We were out loud and in your face. Rather than beg for our rights, we demanded them. Then we did something even more revolutionary. We created a community where there was none before. Before GLF, the only place LGBT people met were small organizations in large cities, private parties, a few illegal gay bars, and cruising places.

One month after Stonewall, GLF had its first demonstration. We took over Christopher Street and told the police it was our home, our community, the very first gayborhood. We invited what today would be called the trans community, including Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, to join our ranks. They created "Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries," STAR. Some of us created Gay Youth, the nation's first organization for LGBT youth. We held public dances, public meetings. We went on TV and Radio shows, we printed and distributed publications and medical and legal alerts. We even created the first LGBT Community Center. If all of that was not enough in that first year, many of us joined with Craig Rodwell and help form "The Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March," which was the first Gay Pride Parade.

How dramatic was this? Before GLF, the nation had only around 100 openly gay people who would speak on behalf of our community or show up at a demonstration. In fact, there was only one demonstration a year. One. That was in Philadelphia each July 4th in front of Independence Hall from 1965-69. That national demonstration never drew more than a hundred participants.

One year after the creation of GLF, there were anywhere between 5,000 and 15,000 people at that first Gay Pride. The FBI report states 3,000, The New York Times states 5,000. Those of us who were there think it was more. But even going from the NYT numbers, from one hundred to thousands in just one year is an incredible shift. GLF was a phenomenon with autonomous chapters sprouting up all over the nation and the world. GLF created the movement we have today. More importantly, GLF created the LGBT Community where there was no community before.

There are other lessons that could be learned from GLF. Today's LGBT organizations struggle with what they assume to be the difficulties of the intersection of social justice movements working together. GLF joined with other movements and supported them regularly. Likewise, GLF welcomed diversity.

Here is one last point, one that is personal and stated with a sense of pride. GLF was by far the most dysfunctional LGBT organization that has ever existed to this day, and that was part of its magic. So much arguing, so much yelling, so much disagreement. But how else could it have fought off the oppression of 2,000 years and produced the first real out, proud, and in-your-face generation? How else could it have inspired people to come out when it was illegal to be openly gay? Stonewall created GLF, but it was GLF that changed the world.


facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Symposium to explore Clarence Darrow's Leopold and Loeb defense 95 years ago 2019-02-19 - The annual Chicago tradition marking the anniversary of the death of famed Chicago attorney Clarence Darrow will mark the 95th anniversary of the ...


Gay News

Before Stonewall, The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community restoration out in June 2019-02-13 - ( February 14, 2019 ) — First Run Features is proud to announce the theatrical re-release of the legendary documentary Before Stonewall: The ...


Gay News

'FACES: Out and Proud' debuting March 1 2019-02-11 - The Center on Halsted is presenting "FACES: Out & Proud," an exhibition of the fine art photographs by Chicagoan Chuck Kramer. The ...


Gay News

Afterglow opening at Pride Arts Center March 27 2019-02-09 - Chicago, IL - Casting for the Chicago Premiere of AFTERGLOW, an off-Broadway hit from 2017 exploring the emotional, intellectual, and physical connections between ...


Gay News

Pride Films and Plays offers Buyer & Cellar, comedy of life in Streisand's basement 2019-02-09 - Pride Films and Plays will mount Jonathan Tolin's one-man play BUYER & CELLAR in the Broadway Theater of the Pride Arts Center, according ...


Gay News

Clarence Darrow Commemoration, two events March 13 2019-02-07 - The Clarence Darrow Commemorative Committee will hold the annual wreath-tossing and symposium commemorating Darrow on the 81st anniversary of Darrow's death on Wed., ...


Gay News

Gerber/Hart Library History of LGBTQ Activism lecture and other dates 2019-02-06 - A four-part series of talks on the history of LGBTQ activism will be given by LGBTQ historian John D'Emilio on the four Thursdays ...


Gay News

WORLD Polish party, Brazil crime, Mumbai Pride 2019-02-06 - Poland's first openly gay politician—Robert Biedron—has launched a new progressive, pro-European Union political party called Spring, PinkNews reported. Biedron, the former mayor of ...


Gay News

All That He Was benefit concert March 11 at Pride Arts Center 2019-01-31 - All That He Was, the 25th Anniversary Benefit Concert on March 11, 2019 at Pride Arts Center will support Pride Films and Plays ...


Gay News

Colleagues, student remember generous gay art-history professor 2019-01-30 - Martha Pollak remembered colleague Ross Edman bringing his Pekinese dogs to campus at the University of Illinois at Chicago ( UIC ), which ...


 



Copyright © 2019 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Sponsor

About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.