Forty years ago this past weekend, New York City Vice police raided an unremarkable gay bar on Christopher Street in New York's Greenwich Village. The mafia-affiliated establishment was known as the Stonewall Inn and this was not its first raid. Tonight, however, was special. This was the night that Judy Garland, the gay man's only friend in Hollywood, was buried after a troubled life filled with heart-break and pills. This was not the right night to pick a fight with a queen. That night a HUNKY Raymond Castro was there and fought back against the police. Martin Boyce and Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt did too. Many people did. The riot began with queens, homeless youth, and young regulars--the outcasts of the gay community. People started showing up from the neighborhood, the cops became outnumbered and a full-scale riot began--the riot flared up every night for three nights until finally the city began to acknowledge they had a BIG PR problem on their hands. A "Homo Next Raid" as the New York Daily News called it, had become a bit more than a routine game of catch the fag. The cops, to this day, stand behind their actions--and frankly our movement sort of has them to thank, in a way. If the chemistry hadn't been perfect that night, it might have gone down a lot differently. We may still be waiting for our landmark moment.
SEE STONEWALL: A PHOTO RETROSPECTIVE. Also watch the AARP video.
Almost immediately after, the energized and militant youth of New York began the Gay Liberation Front, and their movement spread throughout the nation, quickly. The next June there were marches in San Francisco, New York, and other cities to commemorate the uprising. Gilbert Baker sewed together 8 (well, actually 7) color strips to create the first rainbow flag. The next year, the marches continued, and the next and the next and the next. This year, even the casts of Hair and West Side Story stood with us. The Empire State Building was illuminated in lavender. It grows every year. Even CNN has remarked on its significance (though ABC, CBS and NBC all ignored the milestone). Yahoo and Google are fighting over which search engine loves the gays more. We are visible.
Every year right around June 28, LGBT people around America celebrate "PRIDE"--Pride in being unabashedly who we are unapologetically. Pride in standing up for ourselves and defending our rights. PRIDE is celebrated world-wide--all with that same familiar rainbow (now 6 colors). From New York (where, strangely, zero State Senators showed up--even though the Senate Dems sponsored it) to Chicago. We may not all agree on the appropriateness of the 'image of gay America' that Pride sends, but regardless of who you hope come, and who you'd wish stay home and in the closet, Pride is for everyone to come and be who they are with no questions--and its always been like that. It re-energizes us and reminds us of what we're fighting for, and how much more we have to go! This weekend is also the tenth anniversary of what is believed to be television's first gay kiss--on the Today Show--long after Ellen and Will and Grace had been on the air. Look at how we celebrate in New York City! We've come a long way, but we have a long way to go!
Nancy Goldstein wrote an interesting piece in the Guardian called "Stonewall's Unfinished Legacy" which is summarized and brought into context over at Pam's House Blend. While we've been fighting a good fight for 40 years, we've yet to see satisfactory progress in most areas of the nation. Though there are now 7 states who allow full Marriage Equality, more on the way, and still more that allow unions with many of the same rights and responsibilities, you can still get fired in most of the country for being gay--including in the Military. Lt. Dan Choi, who grand marshaled San Francisco's Pride, knows this first hand. Another reminder right in San Francisco of the hate we still endure is the arson vandalism that befell the giant pink triangle placed above the city as a reminder of the gay Holocaust victims.
We can't forget those brave men and women who kicked the movement off. Surveys find a huge generation gap in the gay community--and we really don't need to read a survey to know that. You young readers: how many people over the age of 40 are you friends with and OF those men over the age of 40, how many have been out for more than 20 years? How many of my older readers write-off young gays as immature or just juvenile partiers? See my point? I think that the young appreciate what has come from the past, but are making no effort to connect to it.
But we MUST connect to it, because it still happens today. By now, it should not be new news to you that there was a code inspection this weekend on the Rainbow Lounge in Ft. Worth, Texas, in which things turned ugly very fast, and now a man is in intensive care in the hospital. While I don't want to be too quick to pin the homophobia meme to the police, there is a definite lack of education. earlier today I talked with a police Sargent who told me that this was their first contact with this particular bar, and that he'd never even HEARD of the Stonewall uprising until now--and now he is sure he will never forget it. At least he responded, the TABC, which also participated in the sweep, are refusing to comment.
The evidence is mounting that there is a bit of "gay panic" at work here--and though, the officer I spoke to seemed very open to learn from this, I'm sure that there's going to have to be a lot more teaching--especially when the Chief of Police blamed Chad Gibson's condition on alcohol poisoning and not a severe head injury. The police are denying targeting the gays in the sweep--which I believe, because all bars have to undergo such sweeps, and according to my source, they bring the Paddy Wagon with them every time. However, the fact that the situation turned bad so quickly is proof that there was a lack of understanding and compassion for the special considerations that the police have to take when dealing with gays and lesbians, who historically have a HORRIBLE relationship with the police. Even the local mainstream press is calling into question the excuses why things got so violent, Fort Worth city council members are calling for investigations, and the Dallas Morning News is calling for a full investigation--which shows just how many folks are looking for answers. And we're the ones that are going to have to do the teaching, once we get those answers. We can't live in a bubble and expect other people to understand our particular issues. Pride must go BEYOND the parade route--we need to take it everywhere so we can educate others and make the world better. The eyewitness accounts show that this was excessive for sure. The stories are so compelling.
Chad Gibson is still in the hospital--here is his story. He has a blood clot on the brain, and his recovery could take anywhere from 6-24 months--and the process could be very dangerous for him.
Donations to help defray Chad Gibson's medical bills can be made to Q Cinema, BoxTurtleBulletin provides the information.
The Ft. Worth police didn't know what to expect at the bar when they got there, because we--as a community--have done a poor job of reaching out to the world outside of our safe little walls and trying to make positive connections. Had the community already had a relationship in place with the police department, the managers and workers and some of the regular patrons would have seen familiar faces walk in--the tension would have been broken, and things would not have spiraled out of control. The officers might have been familiar with the patrons and knew that when Joe over there in the corner was spinning around, it didn't mean he's drunk, he's just feeling the music. Now, the police very well could have done this too--they could have already had a liaison officer in place coordinating the development of this relationship--but if we want acceptance, then its our responsibility to ask for it. We can't wait for people to come to us and offer it, we have to reach out. Come out of our closets again--and bust into the real world.
Its the spirit of Stonewall, and its just what makes sense. So enjoy your parades, your floats and your booths, but the other 364 days of the year, educate those who need it, and build those bridges so that this never has to happen again.