6/27/2007

Remembering the Stonewall Rebellion

As cities across the United States host parades this month, it's an appropriate time to acknowledge the act of defiance that catalyzed what is now known as "Gay Pride." Local news stations like to show some of the more outrageous participants of Gay Pride parades and festivals. After all, the scantily or bizarrely-clad make for good viewing. But there's a rich history to these parades, making them more than the outrageous Dykes on Bikes, the leather contingent and the ubiquitous West Hollywood Cheerleaders.


These colorful images represent a fun summer party to some, while others see the images as proof that homosexuality is indecent and immoral. In fact, these images are controversial even within the gay community, as more conservative folk dislike and even resent the more salacious images projected to the world.

What Gay Pride represents can often be lost in the roar of motorcycles and the thumping of club music pounding from floats. In fact, the most telling representations might just be in the somewhat nondescript participants in every Pride event throughout America. Today you will find various churches, public officials and a variety of unlikely supporters marching in the nation's Pride Parades.

During San Diego's Pride Parade, the whistles and cheers come to a still quiet when one group marches down University Avenue. And every year, it can only mean one thing--PFLAG is coming down the street. Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays is often comprised of senior citizens in t-shirts and knee-length shorts, looking like they're getting ready for a day of gardening or sightseeing.


Instead, they hold up signs that express love for a gay child. Messages on colored posterboard say things like "My gay son Rob means the world to me!" This tribute always quiets the party atmosphere as spectators choke back tears and clap enthusiastically.

The respectful silence is a quiet acknowledgement of the many participants who have been shunned by their own families after coming out. And it is telling that for the thousands of parade participants and spectators, only a very small fraction of these parents are present.

This type of public support for the gay community would have been unthinkable were it not for the event alternately called the Stonewall Rebellion, or Stonewall Riots. Like every quest for civil rights in the United States, the build-up to Stonewall stemmed from the often shocking and bizarre mistreatment of a group of people.

As gay establishments quietly operated in cities across the nation, police conducted regular raids. Simply being on site was justifiable cause for police to fingerprint, photograph, and often publish this information in local newspapers. In New York City at the time, a bar could have its liquor license revoked for "knowingly serving three or more homosexuals at a time."

During the early hours of June 28, 1969 police raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. While patrons were used to such raids and typically allowed police to hustle them into paddywagons, this time they resisted arrest. Police were outnumbered as the crowd hurled stones and bottles, and officers eventually locked themselves into the Stonewall Inn itself.

As police called for the riot squad--which had previously been trained to squelch Vietnam protests--Stonewall Inn patrons used a parking meter as a battering ram in an attempt to re-enter the bar, and some even tried to set the club on fire. Word quickly spread through the neighborhood and Village locals came to join the rebellion. (Yes, I know...this spot is prime for an "angry Villagers" joke, but I'll withhold out of respect.)

Several hours later, the riot police had beaten, arrested, and dispersed the crowd. But many Christopher Street locals returned for the next several evenings in open defiance to the city and police, with similar results. In all, the Stonewall Rebellion would last for five nights.

While gay activism was not borne out of the Stonewall Rebellion, it certainly catalyzed the movement. A dam had burst and gays and lesbians refused to live by a different set of societal rules any longer. Some historical accounts say that flyers were circulated later in the summer to organize activists. It read "Do you think homosexuals are revolting? You bet your sweet ass we are!"

The following year, the Gay Liberation Front organized a march to be held on June 28 to commemorate the Stonewall Rebellion. That same weekend, organizers in San Francisco held a "Gay-In," while activists in Los Angeles marched in support of Stonewall as well.

To commemorate the 30th anniverary of the rebellion, the Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Around the 35th anniversary of Stonewall, some officers on the scene that first night broke their silence and spoke about the events. One policeman called Stonewall the "Gay Alamo," and told the NY Blade that "he likes people who will fight back for themselves, and that night was the first time he saw gay people fight back."

The Pride Parades are about much more than feather boas and flamboyance. Nearly forty years later, the fact that our country heatedly debates topics such as gay marriage is both exasperating yet shows how far tolerance has come since the nights of the Stonewall Rebellion.

If your only exposure to Gay Pride is a brief video clip on your local news, I hope the quickie history lesson gives you a better context of the festivities. And to my friends who are celebrating this month, Happy Gay Day.

32 comments:

NotAnOptimist said...

Murst!

Thanks for the history lesson. It's good to remember that behind the flamboyant huzzah, the gay community had to fight to overcome persecution. It's a reminder to all of us that the world becomes more tolerant only when people actively take a stand and speak out against intolerance.

Your post is remarkably apropos; I've been following a heated discussion on facebook about homosexuality (wrt religion, choice, genetics, and of course marriage) and there are still a number of [young] people out there who would like nothing better than to condemn all gays to Hell. It dismays me. But the past gives the present hope that the future can change for the better... not that I personally believe that because, hello, not an optimist. ;)

Aspeth said...

Hmmm...that was a dangerously 'glass-half-full' assessment there!

It's amazing how social mores have changed so much over the past few decades. It's really a bit mind-blowing to think how repressive laws were, and how acceptable it was to openly victimize other people, whether for their sexuality or race.

But far too few people understand why the flamboyant joy of Gay Pride is not only expected but hard-won. Those brief news clips don't touch on the historical basis, just the outrageousness. And of course, people fear what they don't understand.

Schnapps said...

Bravo, Aspeth. Excellent synopsis of Stonewall and short primer of gay history.

I live in a country where gay marriage is constitutionally upheld. And yet to hear stories of the social and physical abuse that still goes on for many GLBQ...

Your thoughts? said...

From EN:

At 6:55 AM, Confused about ASPETH said...
Is ASPETH a man or a woman? Is he/she gay or straight? Its not important and I am not trying to insult him/her. I am just confused about his/her point of view.
I want to think that ASPETH is a drag queen? A he that goes by she? Am I right or wrong. Anyone?


At 6:57 AM, Anonymous said...
As far as I can tell Aspeth is a liberal chick who's probably kind of bookish, and was sort of nerdy in high school and might actually be into some weird shit. Like this dorky chick and her disturbing goth husband who tried to get an ex girlfriend and I to come over to their little rat's nest after dinner to screw. Eeessh

BelowTheCrowd said...

Why would it matter who the person is who is saying something, if the thing being said is worth reading?

-btc

Aspeth said...

Schnapps...great point about our neighbor to the north. I've just never understood any of the hoopla around that particular debate. The staggering divorce rate in this country pretty much annihilates the oft-repeated 'ruining marriage' concept.

Your thoughts? are half-baked...go ahead and take every element of that description and do a 180. I'm pretty all-American...surf and sail whenever possible. And in hs, I was voted both class president and wore the crown at prom. As for some i-net cretin being invited over....EEEEEW. Just eeeeew.

BTC...because this is the new hobby of the EN trolls.

NotAnOptimist said...

@Aspeth:
Every element? So you're... conservative??

Aside from that, you have now confirmed that you are soooo hot and out of my league that I feel like continuing my crush on you would be sacrilege. ;)

Akubi said...

Anyone who has been reading Aspeth’s blog for any length of time knows that she surfs and that _is_ hot.
However, Aspeth, I have to admit I assumed you would be the sort who was way too cool to go to the prom let alone wear a crown.

BTW, Schnapps, I didn’t know that about Canada. It was legal around here for a while. I’m not sure why so much of the rest of the country is so backwards.

Aspeth said...

Oh, jeez...again, I think you're giving me too much credit.

I always wonder about the people who ask others about high school as a frame of reference. Does that mean they didn't go on to college? Just because someone was popular, does that preclude the idea that they could hate the entire setting and experience as well?

The only reason the anon got a response was to point out that you don't even know what you don't know.

Akubi said...

No, it doesn't. I'm just playing along with the silliness :).

Aspeth said...

Akubi...that's a funny comment, actually, because I ditched the prom to go to a concert. The prom court results were announced ahead of the actual dance, and I was royally pissed off that I 'won' this bizarre pageant of sorts. It flew in the face of everything I believed, and I made a huge stink about the antiquated practice and principles behind it.

It was such a mess that I almost wasn't allowed to graduate. (again, the wonderful priorities of high school) The school only relented because I was supposed to speak at graduation. Then I ditched the graduation. I was just done...there was no reason to go back for even a day.

NotAnOptimist said...

@Aspeth
What exactly are the principles behind prom?

Aspeth said...

My best guess is teen pregnancy.

Akubi said...

Aspeth,
Thanks for the prom queen follow up. That fits in better with my blog-based assumptions.

Ogg the Caveman said...

Ah yes, graduation. When I went through, the administration spent the last three months threatening to bar seniors from graduation for offenses that normally would get a slap on the wrist.

My best guess is teen pregnancy.

That's not so much a principle as a common side-effect.

Aspeth said...

Ogg...hehe, two universal truths, no matter where you went to school.

Akubi...after I posted that, I remembered the exact scenario. After much back-and-forth, with the school saying that they were somehow *forcing* me to go to the prom, I threatened to buy a lime green prom dress from a vintage shop, dye my hair to match, and bring a 25-y.o. singer in a band as my date.

Parents were called. I realized the path of least resistance was to go along with everything, even getting dressed up, taking photos leaving the house, etc. Went to the concert in the prom dress, then hit the after-parties and learned that I missed absolutely nothing. On Monday, the teachers and admins just acted like nothing happened.

Akubi said...

Please don't remind me of the bad hair colors! When I look at some old photos, I shake my head and wonder WTF was I thinking? I gather you never in fact dyed your hair green though. In an attempt to remove an unflattering black hair coloring decision, I ended up with an even more unnatural and unattractive greenish-gray hue...and then made matters worse by hoping to offset it with some red. Complete disaster.

BelowTheCrowd said...

I skipped my own prom. Had only been in that school for two years and for whatever reason my primary social circle -- to the extent that I had one -- in that place was with kids a year younger. I did get talked into going to the prom a year later. Eventually realized it was because I had better access to alcohol than anybody else. It was a complete waste of time.

There was a huge fight over graduation. The valadectorian was a kind of mousy, unpopular genius type who had skipped a grade or two and as such was barely 17. Some people found a loophole: If they calculated an "overall" GPA, which included all sorts of special electives, rather than "academic" GPA, which had traditionally been used, some really popular kid would have won, mostly on the strength of the fact that the theater teacher had a hobby of giving out only grades containing the letter 'A'. A huge school-wide debate ensued, with teh board of education finally having to weigh in and reaffirm the process that had historically been used.

I left town about two days later. Still in touch with only two guys from my school, and nobody from my class, but still very close to people I knew from previous schools I attended.

-btc

BelowTheCrowd said...

Another graduation story, because I'm on a roll:

During college graduation, a guy who had lived on my floor tried to talk us all into handing the dean cards with fake names on them to read. He wanted us all to use gangster names. He would be Tony Montana, others could be members of the Corleone family, Barzini, Tataglia, etc.

We turned him down. Most of us had parents and family there. John did not, on the excuse that they were in California and couldn't make it to the east coast.

John was always a weird guy. We knew he had started a year ahead of us and dropped out for a year, and he never seemed all that serious but apparently did reasonably well in school. He was the guy who had two huge speakers in his dorm room. So big that he had to elevate his bed about 5' in the air to accommodate them underneath. One of his favorite things to do was to blast Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines" at top volume at about 4am. During exams.

We later figured out what was up with him, when he started calling around to various of us who were still in New York and asking us to recommend courses we really liked in school because he felt the need to "take some courses" in his free time and do some of the things he "never had time for" as a student.

Turns out he never had graduated. That's part of the reason his parents weren't there, and why he was so callous about the whole thing. Apparently the school let him attend graduation on the expecation that he would make up missing credits over the summer and get his diploma a few months late.

Cost him a job too. Or at least that was the excuse. A friend at the bank he was working for told me that in fact it was something to do with hookers on the corporate credit card, but they used "lied about your academic background" as the excuse to move him out quietly.

According to the university directory, he did finally get his degree the following year. No idea what happened to him.

-btc

NotAnOptimist said...

Am I the only one here who actually wanted to go to prom? Not that I wanted to dance, or go with "that special someone" (I went with a friend, we only decided to go a week before the event)... I just wanted to get all dressed up for the sheer shock factor. And it totally worked! I had friends walking past me all night wondering aloud where I was. Absolutely hilarious. Not to brag... but I look damn hot when I put my mind to it. *smirk*

Ogg the Caveman said...

@ BTC:

It was a similar story for me. Most of my friends in high school were at least a year ahead of or behind me.

My high school reunion is coming up, and I haven't decided if I'm going to go or not. If I do go it'll be mainly out of curiosity -- I'm still in touch with the few people from that lot that I really care about.

BelowTheCrowd said...

Ogg,

I don't even think my highschool knows where I am anymore. Since my mom moved, they don't even have a parent's address.

-btc

Sprezzatura said...

One of his favorite things to do was to blast Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines" at top volume at about 4am. During exams.

BWAHAHAHAHA!!!

We had this thing called "Primal Scream" to help get all that #### out of our system the Sunday night before exam week. Everyone would go out onto the quad at midnight and scream their fool heads off. The folks with the high-end stereos would point them out their windows & blast tunes.

My 20th college reunion is next year. I'm still in touch with enough friends that I'll probably be there so we can all hang out together.

NotAnOptimist said...

@Sprezz

Hey, my school had Primal Scream too! And a quad... wait a sec... you wouldn't have happened to graduate from a certain college in the Bay Area that has events like, say, Full Mono on the Quad??

Aspeth said...

Okay, that susses it...Sprezzie knows *everyone*

BelowTheCrowd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BelowTheCrowd said...

Aspeth,

Don't jump to conclusions. Sprezzie didn't go to the same school as NotAnOptimist. Primal Scream is something I've heard of at lots of schools.

I went to school at the pre-eminent University in upper Manhattan, so we didn't do things like Primal Scream. Who would have noticed over the noise from the traffic? Instead people ended up doing really weird stuff. Primal Scream would have been a better idea. One year some guys set a mattress on fire and tossed it out of a 14th floor window. Another year some guys dropped a sofa off a high rise and hit a parked Chevy. Fun. For graduation we had a dorm-wide waterfight.

Back to Sprezzie. Her grandparents and mine lived two houses apart. Have known her as long as I can remember. Lost touch for about 20 years then reconnected by pure chance on a messageboard some time back.

Weird world.

-btc

Aspeth said...

And I believe it was on this blog that Sprezzie and Benoit discovered they went to the same high school (correct me if I'm wrong there)

Sprezzatura said...

Aspeth -- One of the things I really love about the Internet is its potential for connecting to people, or re-connecting as in BTC's case. I did not go to a Bay Area college, though, so notanpotimist and I didn't cross paths there (sorry, dude).

If I remember my statistics class correctly, you only need to put 26 random people in a room to find two people who share a birthday. So it should be no surprise that a set of strangers should have some overlap in their lives. If we all sat down in a room and started comparing lives more closely, there'd be more interaction points, overlaps, etc. We just don't know them yet.

BelowTheCrowd said...

Sprezzie,

Not excactly.

You need 23 people to have a better than 50% chance of two of them sharing a birthday.

With 30 people, roughly 1 standard deviation (68% probablility)

With 45 people, roughly 2 standard deviations (95% probability)

With 60 people, roughly 3 standard deviations (99% probability)

With 75 people, roughly 4 standard deviations (99.9% probability)

Note that there is no way to be 100% certain of having two people with the same birthdays in the room, or even in the stadium. But beyond 100 people, a lack of a match would really be a "black swan" event.

More on black swans at my blog. Or just read Taleb.

Those of us on the internet, in messageboards/blogs/etc. is are a somewhat self-selecting group. Odds that we would come from similar backgrounds and locations are much higher than for the general population.

This is part of the reason I feel comfortable saying thins like "takes one to know one" to people I don't even know (as I've said to Aspeth at least once recently). Pretty good odds that there are things in common, even if not necessarily the things we are thinking of when we make the statement.

-btc

Sprezzatura said...

Yes, I need to read that book. Too much on the plate lately; I've barely been reading at all.

BelowTheCrowd said...

Ugh. WHAT was I thinking (or not thinking) when I wrote that.

Of course, with more than 365 people in the room, you are guaranteed to have at least one. The quirk to this is that since birthday matches are not mutually exclusive (me and Sprezzie having the same birthday would not prevent me and Aspeth from having the same birthday too, and no, I don't know either of their birthdays, it's just an example), you can be guaranteed at least one match given enough people, but cannot every be guaranteed MORE than one match. The probability of such a thing happenning is staggering low with any sizable group.

-btc