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In the beginning… June 28, 2020

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“[It was] a perfect event in my life because it let me live the kinds of dreams I had of seeing an equitable society. I was able to live my life, which I would have done anyway, but without Stonewall I would have had more opposition. So it turns out the times were on my side, which left me with a basically happy life.”

 

– Martin “Marty” Boyce

It started off like any other regular Friday. People got up, got dressed, went to work (on Wall Street) or to school. Some wrote poetry or songs in a café. Some gathered on a street corner hoping to score their next meal. It was a regular Friday, and people were looking forward to the weekend. They came home or went to a friend’s place. They changed clothes – that was the first spark of something special… but it was still just a regular Friday. People were going to go out, have a good time, sing, dance, gather with friends (maybe do it again on Saturday night), and then spend some time recovering so that, on Monday, they could go back to being regular.

It was a regular Friday… that became an extraordinary Saturday, because at around 1:20 AM on Saturday, June 28, 1969, four policeman dressed in dark suits, two patrol officers in uniform, a detective, and a deputy inspector from the New York Police Department walked into the Stonewall Inn and announced that they were “taking the place!” It was a raid.

“I was never afraid of the cops on the street, because I was not an obvious person. I was not flaunting my homosexuality to anyone. I wasn’t holding hands. It would never have occurred to me to try and have a confrontation with them [because] you don’t want to be arrested for any stupid reason. I never had any problems with the police. I never had problems with anyone anywhere, until that night…. I never ever gave it a thought of [Stonewall] being a turning point. All I know is enough was enough. You had to fight for your rights. And I’m happy to say whatever happened that night, I was part of it. Because [at a moment like that] you don’t think, you just act.”

 

– Raymond Castro

In some ways, there was still nothing special. The Stonewall Inn, located on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan was a Mafia owned “private bottle bar” frequented by members of the GLBTQIA+ community. It was raided on a regular basis, usually at a standard time. Because the bar was Mafia owned, it would normal get a heads up (from someone who knew the raid was coming – wink, wink, nudge, nudge) and just before the raid was scheduled the lights would come up so people could stop holding hands or dancing (both of which were illegal for same sex partners) and any illegal alcohol could be hidden. The police would separate people based on clothing and then a female officer would take anyone wearing a dress into the bathroom in order to check their genitalia. Some people were arrested, but many would go back to the party once the police had taken their leave.

The raid that happened this morning in 1969 was different. There was no warning. No lights came up. No then-illegal activity was hidden. Unbeknownst to the patrons, four undercover officers (two men and two women) had previously been in the bar gathering visual evidence. The police started rounding people up and, also, letting some people go. They were planning to close the bar down. The only problem was…people didn’t leave. The people who were released stayed outside in the street, watching what was happening, and they were eventually joined by hundreds more.

“I changed into a black and white cocktail dress, which I borrowed from my mother’s closet. It was mostly black, empire-waisted, with a white collar. I used to dress with a bunch of older queens and one of them lent me black fishnet stockings and a pair of black velvet pumps…. The cop looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you!’ and I said, ‘Please, it’s my birthday, I’m just about to graduate from high school, I’m only 18,’ and he just let me go! [I was] scared to death that my father would see me on the television news in my mother’s dress.”

 

– Yvonne (also known as Maria) Ritter

At times the crowd was eerily quiet. But then, as Mafia members were brought out, they started to cheer. When employees were brought out, someone yelled, “Gay power,” and someone started to sing. An officer shoved a person in a dress and she started hitting him over the head with her purse. The crowd was becoming larger… and more restless. At some point people started throwing beer bottles and pennies (as a reference to the police being bribed by the Mafia.) This was becoming a problem, but an even bigger problem was when the police found out the second van was delayed. They were stuck.

Then, things went from bad to worse when some of the 13 people arrested (including employees and people not wearing what was considered “gender appropriate clothing”) resisted. One of the women, a lesbian of color, managed to struggle and escape multiple times. At some point there were four officers trying to contain her. When a police officer hit her over the head, she yelled at the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?” And they did.

Police officers barricaded themselves and several people they were arresting (some of whom were just in the neighborhood) inside of the bar for safety. The NYPD’s Tactical Patrol Force was called out to free the officers and detainees trapped inside the Stonewall Inn. One witness said that the police were humiliated…and out for blood. The police’s own escalation, in trying to contain the violence, was met with a Broadway chorus style kick-line… and more violence. The escalation continued. At times, people were chasing the police.

The ensuing protests/riots lasted through the weekend and, to a lesser degree, into the next week. The bar re-opened that next night and thousands lined up to get inside. There was more vandalism and more violence, but on Saturday night (June 28th) there were also public displays of affection: at that time, illegal same-sex public displays of affection. People were out.

“It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot!”

 

– Stormé DeLarverie

The Stonewall Uprising, the riots and the ensuing protests and celebrations were not the first of their kind. Three years earlier, the Mattachine Society had organized “sip-ins” where people met at bars and openly declared themselves as gay. That kind of organized, peaceful civil disobedience was happening all over the country during the 60’s. Tt was a way to break unjust laws and it temporarily reduced the number of police raids. However, the raids started up again.

Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson, Zazu Nova, Jackie Hormona, Martin “Marty” Boyce, Sylvia Rivera, Raymond Castro, John O’ Brian, and Yvonne “Maria” / “Butch” Ritter were among the people involved in the Stonewall Uprising. The musician Dave Van Ronk (who famously arranged the version of “House of the Rising Sun” made famous by Bob Dylan) was not gay, but he was arrested. Alan Ginsberg, who was gay, would witness the riots and applaud the people who were taking a stand. Village Voice columnist Howard Smith was a straight man who had never been inside the Stonewall Inn until he grabbed his press credentials and made his way into the center of the uprising. Craig Rodwell (owner of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop) and Fred Sargent (the bookstores manager) started writing and distributing leaflets on behalf of the Mattachine Society. They also drummed up media interest. In addition to Rodwell and Sargent, Dick Leitsch (a member of the Mattachine Society), John O’Brien, and Martha Shelley (a member of the Daughters of Bilitis) would start organizing so that the protest that turned into a riot would come full circle as a protest that created change.

A year later, June 28, 1970, thousands of people returned to Stonewall Inn. They marched from the bar to Central Park in what was then called “Christopher Street Liberation Day.” The official chant was, “Say it loud, gay is proud.” And, I’m betting there was at least one kick line.

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 28th) at 2:30 PM to celebrate Pride. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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### SAY IT LOUD ###

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