Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Proud and pink. 40 Years of Struggle
It was June 28th 1969 2 or 3 am on a Saturday morning. New York sweltered in the grimy, humid heat that you can only get away from in an air conditioned enviornment. It was the West Village and there was this gay bar on Christopher Street at Sheridan Square and 7th Avenue. The bars were opened until 4am. It was air conditioned and crowded. The jukebox was grinding out Supremes, The Temptations and Mary Wells. Earlier that afternoon on June 27th, on the Upper East Side at 81st and Madison there had been a funeral service for gay icon and movie star Judy Garland who a week earlier had died of an accidental overdose of barbiturates. This did not seem to dampen the mood at The Stonewall. It was the same routine as every weekend. Gay bars were the only place where men and women, attracted to their own sex, were able to freely associate.
The police had a routine too. In the 1960's something had happened too American Cities. Racial violence, urban decay, drugs, hippies, queers and a whole host of other degrading phenomena had driven the larger part of the white population out of the cities and into the suburban communities where post world war families could live in tract peace and raise their families without worrying about pushers from Harlem or subversive ideas freely attained on the inner city streets
In 1969 there were gay bars in just about every major city in America. They were largely owned and operated by the mob who gave payola to the police for protection from harassment for it was still illegal to be a homosexual in most of the USA in 1969. But this protection only went so far. On election years politicians had to make a stand, or popular moralists full of vitriolic righteousness printed in the local papers reminded the officials of their duty to give the cities back to the good people of this country. Or it was just time to clean the streets. Or maybe the owners were just not paying up. So any of the mentioned was the motive on that Saturday morning on June 28th 1969 when the police raided the Stonewall.
A police raid on a gay bar in 1969 could end a career. It could ostracize, disown, institutionalize, cause suicide and just plain hassle people. Being homosexual was not an accepted life style. The word faggot was freely used by the press, on television by celebrities, politicians, in the movies, The New York Times, on the radio and in music. It was an accepted term much like the 'N' word was 50 years before. The homosexual was the most hated segment of our society. Even the most liberal minded people in those days were split on the idea of homosexuality so when the police descended on the Stonewall Bar on the morning of June 28th 1969 something happened that shook the world.
The queens fought back!
They fought back with bottles, highball glasses, bar stools, and what ever they could get their hands on. They drove the police out of the bar, the riot spread to the street where others quickly caught the air, pent up anger, sick of the harassment the riot lasted 3 days. This was the beginning of the modern gay movement.
Today we still fight. I was talking to friend the other day about Prop 8. He was distraught about the supreme court decision. Being a gay parent to a 16 year old teenager and has taken the Proposition 8 decision to heart because he feels he has been personally attacked for what he takes as a normal way of life. He lives in a nice community outside of Pasadena, his son attends high school and dates girls, he is well respected by his neighbors, pays taxes and lives with his lover. This man cannot get married?
"Are we ever going to be treated as human beings.?" He asks. I thought it over. I was not in the riots but I was around at the time. I was 17, hard to believe I was ever that young, I saw the aftermath of the riots and a year later I marched in the first Gay Pride parade up 7th Avenue to Central Park where we stood amazed in a park Meadow (I believe it is called Strawberry Fields now). Here we were. There must have been 10,000 of us. Today the parade has millions in all major cities.
Yes! We will defeat Prop 8. Yes I know, the majority of the people voted yes to ban gay marriage. The people voted for slavery once too. the people voted to jail anyone suspected of being communist as well. That did not make it right. We will defeat Prop 8, inch by inch, voter by voter, door to door, slowly but surely. I urge everyone to think strongly on this issue, it is not just about men marrying men and women marrying woman, it is about the basic rights of all men and women to stand in equality without a religious or moral judgment dictating to us what we can and cannot do. It's funny how the right always screams about government intervention but seems to approve of it when it comes to gay rights.
There are parts of this country where we still can loose our jobs because of who we are. There are parts of this world where we can still be put to death for who we are. The struggle continues.
Please join us in our celebration of our 40 year struggle, through AIDS, through religious intolerance and social disapproval, we are still here. We are everywhere!