STONEWALL

Summer was there and the time was right for either dancing or fighting in the streets.

One is almost forced to ask the obvious question, “What took us so damned long?”

It wasn’t as if Stonewall was the only act of rebellion or militant activism in the 1960s.  The entire decade was filled with actions, riots, rebellions and street fights against the oppression of authorities.

Why Stonewall?

Two or three things I know for sure.  It wasn’t because Judy Garland died.  It wasn’t the first time pushed around LGBT/T  people fought back against the police.  Most important it didn’t happen in a vacuum.

The rebellion was like a shiny new motorcycle carefully built and just sitting there waiting for someone to kick-start it.

And the folks at Stonewall…

I wasn’t there but I was with lots of ruckus raising people on the west coast and I  read the accounts at the time as well as the historical accounts and those who fought back were the underclass of LGBT/T folks.

David Carter’s excellent account describes the patrons of Stonewall as “too”.  Too young. Too queenish. Too obvious. Too black or brown.  In short people for whom the lyrics of the Kris Kristofferson song, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” were how they lived.

If you were middle class and older with a good job and appearances to maintain you probably were not going to spend time at Stonewall.  Or the other mafia run holes.  That weekend you would be more likely to be out on Fire Island or in a classier bar surrounded by other straight appearing men with good jobs.

Now queen as a term had broader meaning in those days and accounts of who was and wasn’t there are muddled.  But among the people were people of color,  scare queens, drag queens, a pre-op transsexual or two at least one dyke who may have started the whole thing and a few straight people who were friends of the oppressed and enemies of authority.  Including  folksinger Dave Van Ronk who arrested and a straight woman who was a self described fag hag.

The rebellion lasted three nights.  Because of the cycle of underground newspapers and their distribution, I didn’t know much in details until the second week in July.

By then that motorcycle was roaring and all the preparation that had been there waiting had turned into Gay Liberation Front groups all across the country.

Within a year though some of the people no longer felt welcome in what had quickly turned in to a gay male movement and started asking uncomfortably anarchistic questions like If the personal is the political why isn’t this movement that came out of a rebellion that was inclusive and underclass serving our needs?  Why are we being erased?

Lesbians had the feminist movement.

Transsexuals in the San Francisco Bay Area had the Transsexual Counseling Service that had grown out of the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot.

In New York, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha Johnson founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), an organization of trannie street sex workers.  Lee Brewster founded Queen’s Liberation Front and for several years published Queen’s Magazine, a sort of pre-Tapestry publication for sisters who attracted mainly to men.

It took years before the different constituencies started to unify.  First came the lesbians.  That started in the mid to late 1970s when Anita Bryant started her bigoted campaigns. It wasn’t a smooth journey to achieving that unity.  In Los Angeles the lesbians at the gay Community Services Center went on strike and put up picket lines around the center.

Out of that strike and other came the practice of referring to the  Gay and Lesbian Community.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that Bisexual and Transgender were added.

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