Wednesday, May 28, 2014

STONEWALL ~ June 28, 1969

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are frequently cited as the first instance in American history when gays and lesbians fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted homosexuals, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

American gays and lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s faced a legal system more anti-homosexual than those of some Warsaw Pact countries. Early homophile groups in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favored non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the 1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social movements were active, including the African American Civil Rights Movement, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and antiwar demonstrations. These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.

Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. The Stonewall Inn, at the time, was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known to be popular with the most marginalized people in the gay community: transvestites, effeminate young men, hustlers, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn, and attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.

After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles and New York commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities; today Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark the Stonewall riots.

Photo &

I think I was in California for the first time with my singing group from Yale when Judy Garland died in 1969. Reportedly the mourning at her funeral was the proximate cause or catalyst for the events that led to the Stonewall riots.

I returned to San Francisco with the Spizzwinks(?) again in 1970. But I wasn't aware of the parade at the time. (When I moved to San Francisco in 1973, the parade was fairly low-key and confined to Polk Street as I recall.) Curiously, we Spizzwinks(?) sang for the San Francisco Yale Club at the Playboy Club at the corner of Jackson and Montgomery -- just two blocks from where I've worked since 1992, and originally started in 1983. Today it houses offices and very fine antique stores on the ground floor. What was that Cole Porter line? "Even nice young men who sell antiques... do it!"


The big news from New York two years ago was the passage of the Marriage Equality Act. Thank you Governor Cuomo! But then two DAYS ago were the two remarkable five-four decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court! What changes have occurred in my lifetime! Oh, that Dennis could have seen it. 

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