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BOOKS Thomas Garguilo talks 'Stonewall Revival,' partner
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2018-07-03

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When Thomas Garguilo retired from a 30-year marketing career at Philip Morris, husband Ron Leone encouraged him to try new things.

"He knew I enjoyed writing and pushed me to give it a shot," said Garguilo. "Initially, I did not have an idea I was passionate enough about to commit to the long process of writing a book. Then, in 2016, I was cleaning out a closet in our house. I stumbled across a collection of old photos from when my first partner, the late Jimmy Pisano, re-opened Stonewall in 1990.

"Jimmy was totally the opposite of me, gregarious and a bit of a showman, while I lived very much on the straight and narrow. I had been saving the photos, preserving them, for more than 20 years but had not really looked at them more than two or three times. After I went through the collection, I knew I had to do something with them."

Garguilo explained that, at first, he was looking to give them to an institution so they could be archived but during his search he did not find "any one place that felt just right" so instead he created his own historical website archive—StonewallRevival.com .

"The book, Stonewall Revival: Tales of 53 Christopher Street & Other Theatrical Adventures, came about as a result of wanting more people to discover the photos other than those who visited the website," said Garguilo. "I wanted lots of people to learn about how Stonewall came back into existence and that Jimmy was the man who made it happen."

Since Garguilo is not an historian, he spent four months doing research on the parts of Stonewall's history he did not already know before he began the book and joined the James River Writers to learn about the writing and publishing process. He noted the whole process took about a year to complete. Garguilo explained that the events in the book happened at the same time as the height of the AIDS crisis. He said Pisano struggled to keep Stonewall open until he died of AIDS in 1994.

"Then I helped keep it open until I could not do that anymore," said Garguilo. "Most people assume that Stonewall was a goldmine when it re-opened. The opposite was true. The business was never strong enough to sustain itself, so Jimmy just borrowed, juggled and finagled to keep it open. It was not until 2000 that anybody paid it any notice. Then, it started to receive numerous landmark designations."

Some of the most surprising things Garguilo re-discovered while looking through the pictures include one image of a small group of people in the bar blowing up pink balloons.

"I had forgotten the details of that night until I saw the tiny print on one of the balloons in an enlargement," said Garguilo. "It said 'Gay Liberation 1990.' Then the memories came flooding back. It was the early morning hours before the 1990 Pride Parade. Jimmy's friends had all stayed after the bar closed to help him blow up thousands of pink balloon bouquets that were placed up and down Christopher Street to celebrate the fact that the site of the original Stonewall Riots had been re-opened. It was one of my most joyous memories because everything was still hopeful at that point."

Garguilo said that when he created the Facebook page and started posting the photos there his goal was to have others contribute their memories and fill in details that he might have forgotten. More than 2,000 people have liked/are following the Facebook page.

"One gentleman helped me remember the name of someone that appears in one of the best photos of the collection," said Garguilo. "It is a shot of a guy in drag bumping and grinding with a New York City police officer. To me, the entire change from 1969 to 1990 is encapsulated in that photo."

When asked why Pisano wanted to reopen Stonewall, Garguilo said it was a desire for Pisano to have his own space after managing many other people's bars and nightclubs over the years. Garguilo explained that Pisano found a space at 53 Christopher Street and at first called the place New Jimmy's to honor Jimmy Merry, the man who taught Pisano the bar business.

Another reason why Pisano did not call the place Stonewall right away, according to Garguilo, was because a prior attempt to resurrect Stonewall at 51 Christopher Street abruptly ended and that coupled with the fact that the famous Stonewall sign that hung outside the building was torn down in 1989 made him reticent to attach the Stonewall name to his new establishment.

"I am not sure how he would have reacted to seeing Stonewall receive all those landmark designations and become a U.S. national monument," said Garguilo. "You have to remember that he struggled so much over the last four years of his life keeping that place open. Just because it was Stonewall did not mean that the crowds came to drink there.

"In fact, Chelsea was the hot neighborhood at the time and most younger men were going there, not to Greenwich Village. While he did see support for his efforts from friends, business associates and a core contingent of loyal patrons, there were parts of the gay community in the 1990s that really did not seem like they cared if Stonewall existed or not."

Garguilo said he does not know how Pisano would have responded to the changes that have happened regarding LGBTQ equality since he always lived as an out and proud gay man who thought of himself as equal to everyone else.

This fall, Garguilo's book will be included in a course, "Literature of the Queer," that Professor T. Ross Leasure will teach at Salisbury University.

For more information about Stonewall's revival, visit stonewallrevival.com/ and www.facebook.com/StonewallRevival/ .


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