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story.lead_photo.caption A spectator waves a rainbow flag Saturday, June 15, 2019, during the annual Northwest Arkansas Pride Festival parade on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. - Photo by Ben Goff

NEW YORK -- Few people are still around who were really at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on that summer evening 50 years ago Saturday, when a raid by the police led to a violent uprising. It was the last straw for beleaguered patrons of the Mafia-run, unlicensed and diverse gathering spot in Greenwich Village. The incident, which was the culmination of years of harassment by law enforcement, is celebrated as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Just this month, the New York Police Department apologized. Here are recollections of that night from three men who were there.

...

In February 1969, Martin Boyce moved into the Manhattan apartment where he would live for the next 50 years. At the time, Boyce, then a 21-year-old history student at Hunter College, was living with his family. Most nights, however, he traded the East Side for the West Village.

"Christopher Street was our turf," he said.

Boyce and some of his friends liked to dress in "scare drag," a looser style of gender-bending that, he recalled, some drag queens derided as "lazy" and "no ambition."

But the point was "to confuse someone for just a few moments," he explained. In any case, one of his personal philosophies of scare drag had a practical benefit.

"Never wear heels, because you had to run," he said.

In this Aug. 31, 1970, photo, a New York Police Department officer grabs a man by the hair as another officer clubs a young man during a confrontation in Greenwich Village after a Gay Power march in New York. A year earlier, the June 1969 uprising by young gay men, lesbians and transgender people at a bar called the Stonewall Inn was a vital catalyst in expanding LGBT activism nationwide and abroad.
In this Aug. 31, 1970, photo, a New York Police Department officer grabs a man by the hair as another officer clubs a young man during a confrontation in Greenwich Village after a Gay Power march in New York. A year earlier, the June 1969 uprising by young gay men, lesbians and transgender people at a bar called the Stonewall Inn was a vital catalyst in expanding LGBT activism nationwide and abroad.

Evading police harassment was a fact of life for people like Boyce. Many of the unwanted interactions were predicated on a criminal statute allowing for the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing. ("And socks didn't count," Boyce said.)

While allowing that the officers "generally" followed the rules, he said that "it was all their whim to make our lives miserable."

According to Boyce, the routine police stops, regular attempts at entrapment and raids of establishments frequented by gay people all contributed to an atmosphere in which being gay meant feeling hunted.

"We all had our lists in our heads of friends who were beaten, maimed, thrown out of their house, informed on by the cops -- tragic stories," he said. "But there was nothing you could do about it."

53 CHRISTOPHER ST.

The Stonewall Inn, a seedy gay bar on Christopher Street, was different things to different people. Many resented the Mafia's control of the bar, which manifested in ways ranging from police payoffs to what Boyce described as a sign-in book at the entrance. ("I can't tell you how many times Judy Garland was there," he said wryly. "Not one real name.")

But Mark Segal, a Philadelphia native who, at 18, arrived in Manhattan in spring 1969, was more than happy to overlook the overpriced and watered-down drinks.

"It was a safe place for us," he said. "When you walked in the door of Stonewall," he added, "you could hold hands, you could kiss and, more importantly, you could dance."

In this July 4, 1967, file photo, Kay Tobin Lahusen (right) and other demonstrators carry signs calling for protection of homosexuals from discrimination as they march in a picket line in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Two years later, the movement came to a head at the Stonewall Inn in New York.
In this July 4, 1967, file photo, Kay Tobin Lahusen (right) and other demonstrators carry signs calling for protection of homosexuals from discrimination as they march in a picket line in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Two years later, the movement came to a head at the Stonewall Inn in New York.

The bar also drew an unusually diverse crowd. "Stonewall was like a Noah's Ark," Boyce said. Its patrons exhibited "degrees of loudness," he explained, "going from drag queens down to professionals."

To avoid alienating any particular demographic and ensure that the clientele remained mixed, Boyce said, the bar's various Mafia front men performed a crude calculus at the door: "Not too many whites, it'll tip to white; not too many blacks, it'll tip to black."

Still, "it wasn't the only gay bar in the neighborhood," Jim Fouratt pointed out. Fouratt turned 28 in the summer of 1969, when he was working for CBS Records, giving the label cool-kid credibility in meetings with bands. He preferred a bar at the nearby Cherry Lane Theater, he said.

"Most of the customers were closeted married men," he said of the Stonewall. In his 1993 book Stonewall, historian Martin Duberman quoted a description of the bar by Fouratt that pulled exactly zero punches: "a real dive, an awful, sleazy place set up by the Mob for hustlers."

WHAT'S IN A NAME

Very early on Saturday, June 28, 1969, something happened at the Stonewall Inn, though even the question of what to call it, like most details of that night, is a matter of disagreement.

Although many historians favor the term "uprising," Boyce and Segal do not shy away from calling the events of that night a riot.

Fouratt, on the other hand, said he preferred to think of it as an "internal rebellion," one in which his "internalized homophobia flew away."

It began with police action that, from the start, was distinct from the raids routinely staged at the Stonewall. Those usually came earlier at night, when the bar was less full, meaning the raid would prove less disruptive to business -- the reason the bar's management paid to be tipped off.

That night, police officers entered the bar and began to arrest employees, saying they were selling alcohol without a license. Several patrons were taken into custody under the appropriate-dress statute.

Most of the time, the people hanging out outside the bar would scatter at the police's arrival. "We always listened to them, we always broke up," Boyce said.

In this May 29, 2014, file photo, a man passes The Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. The bar was the site of the Stonewall uprising that started on June 28, 1969, and galvanized the gay rights movement.
In this May 29, 2014, file photo, a man passes The Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. The bar was the site of the Stonewall uprising that started on June 28, 1969, and galvanized the gay rights movement.

"But not this time," he continued. "I don't know what happened. I don't know for the life of me."

Instead, the crowd began to resist, with boos escalating to more aggressive jeers. There are different accounts of the true spark, but eventually, a riot broke out in front of the Stonewall.

"The pain, the anger, the frustration, the humiliation, the constant badgering, the constant turmoil that they caused in our lives: Now was the time to get it out," Boyce said. "You didn't have to hurt a cop. You didn't have to hurt somebody. You just had to scream it out."

SCENES OF FRENZY

Although the general contours of the uprising are somewhat well established, almost every detail of that first night continues to be fiercely contested, even half a century later, including "who threw the first brick" -- or even if bricks were thrown. ("There's this whole myth of people breaking, throwing bricks at the windows and starting fires: It's all myth, it's all mythology," Fouratt said, saying there was wood all over the windows at the time.) But participants' vivid recollections of certain moments form a striking collage of a June night heavy with history.

Boyce said the crowd outside the bar was nothing out of the ordinary. "In those days, it was entertainment to see a raid," he said. "It was schadenfreude: You weren't in it, so watch it." From where he and his friend Birdie Rivera were standing, he said, they had a good view of someone being shoved into a paddy wagon.

He said he remembered seeing a high heel come out of the van and kick the officer. "He just went in," Boyce recalled, "and you heard flesh and bone against metal."

After the officer turned around with his nightstick raised and told the onlookers to clear out, something took a turn, Boyce said. "We just kept taking steps towards him. So I don't know what we looked like, or what was in our eyes. But he did. And he looked, he flinched, he gulped, and he ran for the door."

Within minutes, he said, "Bang: The whole thing just blew up."

Boyce said he remembered a long night of at least a dozen retreats and returns. At one point, he said, people ran out of things to throw and went out to get more ammunition. When they returned, he said, "they were dragging big, black bags of squeezed oranges from Orange Julius."

And of course, there was the kickline. "We started this Rockette kickline, singing 'We Are the Village Girls,' one of our ditties," he said.

That squares with Segal's recollection of a generally upbeat mood. "We were very happy that night," he said. "We were joyous."

"At one point, I felt like screaming, 'I'm gay!' in the middle of the street," he said. "That was unheard-of."

Asked if he had any regrets about anything he did or didn't do that first night, Segal initially said no. "I'm happy that I wrote on the streets, you know, and the walls; I'm happy that I witnessed what I witnessed." Still, he said, "I don't remember throwing anything, as other people have.

"If I have one regret, maybe it's I didn't throw a stone or a can," he said, laughing.

Boyce was also proud of how the night unfolded. "No scores were settled," he said, pointing out that the frenzy of a raid was often used for cover to exact personal vengeance. "Queens that really hated each other fought side by side."

'ENDING INVISIBILITY'

All these participants agreed that it was not remotely obvious in the immediate aftermath that the uprising would prove to be of any lasting significance. "We didn't think Stonewall was historic at all," Segal said.

One of the most important shifts after Stonewall was visibility. Boyce and Segal both recalled having to sneak around libraries when they were younger for information about being gay, which, at the time, meant scientific literature that characterized homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Boyce mentioned Tennessee Williams' growing fame and Truman Capote's self-deprecating TV appearances as evidence that "we weren't totally isolated."

"No matter how negative, you just wanted to see yourself," he said.

Segal apparently felt the same way. In the years after Stonewall, he engaged in a series of political stunts called zaps, in which he barged into broadcasts in an effort to provoke discussion. "I was appearing unannounced on all your favorite TV shows, if they were live," he said.

"I didn't care if I was an enemy because if someone saw me doing what I was doing, they had to talk about us," he said, "and the more they talked about us, the more we became visible. The more we became visible, the more people would feel confident coming out."

Segal, whose grandmother took him to his first civil rights demonstration at 13, said that despite his presence at Stonewall, he hoped his legacy would be "ending invisibility." "I'm proud of those zaps," he said, calling them "the most important contribution I made."

One of his main prescriptions for contemporary gay rights groups is more black and transgender people in leadership positions. But Segal also said activists could stand to adopt a few of the earlier movement's tactics, and perhaps some of its fervor.

"Get out in the street!" he said. "Handcuff yourself to something! Get arrested!"

Style on 06/25/2019

Print Headline: 'Not this time': In 1969, patrons of Stonewall Inn fought back against police harassment, sparking movement that continues today

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Comments

  • RBear
    June 25, 2019 at 7:25 a.m.

    Great article on the resistance by drag queens at the Stonewall Inn after several weeks of harassment. These individuals paved the way for a movement that has focused on providing equality for LGBTQ individuals in America and the world. As the article also states, it helped end the era of invisibility. Today, I am proud to see more individuals who have come out of the shadows and live openly and without shame. As I've heard many say before me, there should never be any second-class citizens.

  • mrcharles
    June 25, 2019 at 10:15 a.m.

    A law worthy of southern heritage type laws-a criminal statute allowing for the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing. "And socks didn't count"

    In their defense in flying horse prophet countries they throw gays off buildings. And we know the good book that our deity system thinkers follow, the boss man has death as a token of love to bestow on them.

    Perhaps hurricane sandy was a belated punishment for them there consenting adults actions in the past.

    tell you what, talking primates sure can surprise you with their devious excuses to want to control others.

  • ARMNAR
    June 25, 2019 at 10:54 a.m.

    KlansmanMac longs for the days of lynch mobs.

    Hey, Archie...how many times in an average day do you use the n-word?

  • GeneralMac
    June 25, 2019 at 11:02 a.m.

    MRCHARLES says....." w ith their excuses to want to control others"

    Are you referring to gays who entered churches during Sunday morning mass/services to disrupt in hopes of getting the church to accept , condone, and sanction their sinful lifestyle ?

  • GeneralMac
    June 25, 2019 at 11:06 a.m.

    A manifest from the 1980's ( written by 2 gay men) got internet attention a few years ago.

    In it, the steps were listed what gays must take to move their agenda forward.

    #1.....label anyone opposed as being a homophobe
    #2.....label churches opposed as being " churches of hate "
    #3.....accuse any men opposed as being " closet homosexuals "

    Seems most "usual suspects" followed that manual word for word

  • RBear
    June 25, 2019 at 11:32 a.m.

    Doug (aka fake) said, "Are you referring to gays who entered churches during Sunday morning mass/services to disrupt in hopes of getting the church to accept , condone, and sanction their sinful lifestyle ?" Can you provide several examples of this or are you just lying about them being the norm? The last time I can find something like that happening was around 2011.

  • GeneralMac
    June 25, 2019 at 11:47 a.m.

    RBear........it DID happen while I was living in Minnesota.

    I have been challenged by gays to " show source" ......" it never happened"

    After I spent time documenting and PROVIDING source, I was met with....." the church got what they deserved "

  • GeneralMac
    June 25, 2019 at 11:51 a.m.

    A Catholic Arch-Bishop spent many hours in dialogue with members of the gay community but finally called all meetings off when he said it was APPARENT the only thing gays wanted was for him to CONDONE their lifestyle and admit to them the Catholic Church was wrong.

  • GeneralMac
    June 25, 2019 at 11:53 a.m.

    "usual suspects" cry about religion being " shoved down their throats"

    They seem to have no problem with gays entering churches, disrupting mass/services and ......." shoving their gay lifestyle down our throats "

  • GeneralMac
    June 25, 2019 at 11:55 a.m.

    Yes, MRCHARLES........HOMOSEXUALS have no qualms about " controlling others" and will stoop low to attempt to gain control.

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