Friday, June 27, 2008

June 27, 1969

39 years ago today, New York police officers conducted a routine raid on the Stonewall Inn, a run-down dive catering to drag-queens, hustlers, and other undesirables in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan.

It was a common practice at that time to raid establishments where gays gathered, for no other reason than to arrest everyone in sight, forcing them to spend the night in the pokey, and to suffer the humiliation of having their names printed in the newspapers the next morning.

This raid turned out to be anything but routine.

Perhaps due to the years of abuse and harassment at the hands of the police, or perhaps because gay icon Judy Garland had been laid to rest that very afternoon, the patrons at Stonewall, joined by a crowd which gathered outside, turned and fought back, breaking glass, hurling rocks (and a few epithets) and touching off five days of rioting in New York.

"Stonewall" is now regarded as the birth of modern gay activism.

And not a moment too soon. Even as activists were finding their voices and taking to the streets, the local press mocked the movement with sneering headlines such as this one from the New York Post, July 6, 1969:

Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad

I have not been particularly active, politically, but the above headline arouses in me the same feelings I wrote about last week.

Today, to celebrate the birth of what is now called Gay Pride, I invite you to raise a glass of whatever you have in the fridge, and toast those brave men in heels who wouldn't take it any more.