Today is the 48th anniversary of the start of the Stonewall Riots. For those who haven’t read up on the riots, here’s a decent article on what happened. It’s quite fascinating and reads like a well thought out novel. The Mafia owned the bar. Crooked cops took bribes and tipped off the bar that a raid would occur. Raids were mostly for show (until they weren’t) and were conducted early in the evening so the bar could carry on and make their money. Someone changed the rules and upset the order of things. Arrests were made, riots ensued, lives were changed and a movement born that would change society.
One of the theories behind why the police conducted this raid on June 28, 1969 is the Mafia was blackmailing some of the more well-heeled clients who patronized the Stonewall Bar and who didn’t want to be outted. The police only got kickbacks on liquor sales, not extortion and they conducted the raid as a warning to the Mafia. That is just a theory. No one – other than the cop who organized the raid – knows why it happened. But it happened.
The primary force behind the uprising were some of the more marginalized people of that era. (Sadly the same people still remain among the most marginalized in this era.) The people most likely to get arrested were transgendered, the poor and women. (Everyone thinks the Stonewall catered to just men, but lesbians were welcome and went there on a regular basis.) Men dressed as women and women dressed as men were sure to get arrested. For women, they had to wear enough feminine clothing or they were considered ‘dressed as a man.’ Women who DID wear enough feminine were taken into the bathroom to “prove” they were women. Men dressed as men who had ID were allowed to leave.
Although raids were common, this one occurred late in the night. Patrons who knew the drill – i.e. raids occurred early in the evening – couldn’t understand what was going on. They’d come after the danger of raids had passed. People refused to go with the police to be checked for gender. Others refused to give ID. This resulted in more arrests than usual and increased tension.
The riots that followed touched off the gay pride movement that has brought so much change today. I was in NYC on 6/28/1994 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Stonewall. It coincided with the 1994 gay games and I played on a soccer team at the time. (We didn’t come close to winning.) It was a moving experience.
1994 was a time of vastly fewer rights and much less acceptance. Although the movement had been going for 25 years and we were seeing greater acceptance in some places, there was nothing close to state rights, federal protections, let alone marriage equality. I should have felt less safe than today, but I don’t remember it that way.
Back in ’94 I felt hopeful that change was happening, even if slowly. Today I feel we are being forced backward. Perhaps it was because then we were fighting FOR something, not defending what we have like we are now. (We had almost no rights to defend at the time.) Or maybe it was a sense things were improving. Today I feel like our rights are under attack and being eroded bit by bit.
So while I’m still proud of who I am and the progress made since 1969, I’m also mindful there is so much still to be done and we must also be on alert for efforts to pare back of gains. I lived through some darker days (though not the darkest to be sure) and I don’t want to go backward. That means this pride season we need to rededicate ourselves to pushing back against any attempt to take away the rights others fought so hard to gain. I still celebrate, but I’m keeping my eyes open to be ready to act.
Here’s to more hopeful days again.
Andrew Q. Gordon wrote his first story back when yellow legal pads, ball point pens were common and a Smith Corona correctable typewriter was considered high tech. Adapting with technology, he now takes his MacBook somewhere quiet when he wants to write.
Since devouring The Lord of the Rings as a preteen, he has been a fan of all things fantastical. His imagination has helped him create works of high fantasy, paranormal thrills and touch of the futuristic. He also writes the occasional contemporary story.
He currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his husband of twenty-two years. Together they are raising their pre-school age daughter and three dogs. Andrew tries to squeeze writing time in around his most important jobs, being husband and ‘Papa.’ Along with teaching how to kick a soccer ball or ride a scooter, he has become fluent in cartoon characters and children’s books. To find out more about Andrew, his writing and his family, follow him on his website or on Facebook.
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