Thought I'd re-post this, but in a more permanent form, cuz according to my poll, there is at least SOME interest in our history. Who knows, if people like this, I will study more of our history and report it.
I think I am going to post the essay I did on Stonewall. It is a very important part of gay american history, and is relevant to gays everywhere. When we learn our history, we can gleen strength from their resolve, and learn from their mistakes. So, in the interest of helping those who wish to learn some of our heritage, I am proud to present, my research paper on Stonewall. If you wish to learn more, I can supply you with some book titles and websites you should visit.
(Please note: I have left in my paranthetical notations, so if it says something like, (smith 22) that is just what we used to prove that we were not plaigerizing (Spelling?))
Stonewall's Effect on Gay Rights
America in the 1960's and early 1970's became a battleground for a cultural revolution. Old ideas of conservatism were challenged by a young generation struggling to identify itself in a world they could not commune with. Many remember this period of history as that of the hippies, and their ideals of "free love," or as others called it, "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." Still others point to the great advances for the civil rights movement, with such historic figures as Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. There are those who more strongly recall the conflict in Vietnam, and how it divided the nation into those who supported it and those who fought to bring our boys home. But for a previously, long time passive minority, it was the turning point for their role in history. This minority was the homosexuals. Their movement for equality is often cited as beginning with the Stonewall Inn Riots, but history tells a different story, one that has the Stonewall riots as more of a plot twist than an opening scene. The plight of gays for recognition in a society that wanted them back in the closet goes back years before the Stonewall incident, or just "Stonewall" as many refer to it, and yet, Stonewall is still seen as the starting point for the gay rights movement. If one were to examine Stonewall and the history surrounding it, one would see that Stonewall was just the culmination of the events and attitudes that manifested beforehand. Furthermore, one would realize that Stonewall was more of the beginning of a new way that gays saw themselves and the society they lived in. To put it simply, Stonewall permanently changed the fundamental ideals and goals of the gay rights movement.
The first known organization for homosexuals was the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, founded in Germany by sex researcher Magnus Hirschfeld. This group fought for the removal of anti-gay laws and the education of non-gays about homosexuality until around 1930, when Hitler came to power (Galas 17). However, American organizations for gays did not start until the end of World War II (Galas 17). The cause for this was before W.W.II, gays and lesbians had no idea that there were other people who had the same feelings that they did (Galas 18). The war changed all this, as Judith C. Galas notes, "World war II brought an end to this isolation. Thousands of young gay men and women joined the armed forces and [. . .] were grouped into large, same sex living quarters and met many people like themselves" (18). Molly McGarry called W.W.II a "national 'coming out' for thousands of lesbians and gay men who met others like themselves and began to sense that they were part of a larger group" (139).
As gay communities sprouted up across the nation, many of the heterosexual status quo were shocked and horrified at what they saw as a growing phenomenon. During the age of McCarthyism, this intolerant majority was only too happy to accept Senator McCarthy's claims that homosexuals were part of a communist movement to undermine the American way of life, and many people, some gay, others unfortunate heterosexuals, were blackballed because of the fear of what the majority of Americans did not understand (Galas 18). This fear has outlasted McCarthy's time, and pervades us even today.
Gays and lesbians nationwide wanted a place they could talk to others like themselves, share their feelings, talk to someone who could truly understand. Secret organizations and societies sprung up to fill this need, probably the most famous one being the Los Angeles Mattachine Society (Barth 309). Harry Hay, actor, educator (Galas 19), and Communist Party activist formed the Mattachine Society in 1950 (McGarry 142). This group was for gay men only, so the Daughters of Bilitus in San Francisco was formed as a resource for lesbians (McGarry 146). These organizations, followed by subsequent chapters of the Mattachine and DOB societies and groups that were modeled after them, became known as part of the "homophile" movement (Berth 309). These groups focused on educating gays and non-gays alike about the "meaninglessness of the difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals ('straights')" (Berth 309), and pushed for support from liberals to allow gays and lesbians to become part of the establishment (McGarry 149). Their ideals focused on "assimilation," rather than self-determination (Berth 309). They also wished the idea that homosexuality was a mental illness would be disproved by progressive psychologists (Galas 22). Like the early civil rights groups they wanted equality, to be viewed the same as everyone else. However, the fear of retribution remained strong, as can be deduced from the fact that members of the Mattachine Society all used pseudonyms, and strove to protect their privacy (McGarry 144).
During the late 1960's, however, those who desired assimilation were joined by a fast growing group with a more radical sentiment. Where before, gay societies relied on court action to change public sentiment, there were some who felt this process of slowly fitting in to the status quo was not effective enough (McGarry 150). As Frank Kameny, Mattachine activist, wrote, "We must DEMAND our rights, boldly, not beg cringingly for mere privileges, and not be satisfied with crumbs tossed to us" (McGarry 150). These groups preferred to protest and fight back instead of waiting for a more accepting establishment, which clashed directly with the "conservative leadership" in gay societies (McGarry 150). While the homophiles had wanted to become just like everyone else, the new and fast-growing sentiment was one of ambivalence, flamboyance, and disregard for the expectations of the straight dominated status quo.
One example of this difference of ideals was how both sides fought the long accepted view among psychologists that homosexuality was a mental disease (McGarry 150). The conservative, "assimilationists," as Jay Barth called them, (310) tried to educate psychiatrists about their belief that being gay did not mean being sick, and waited for a liberal doctor to step up to the challenge of proving this (McGarry 149). Unfortunately, many mental doctors argued "any homosexual could be turned into a 'healthy' heterosexual [with therapy]. Often , however, this therapy included confinement in a mental hospital, electric shock, and lobotomy, [i.e.] removal of part of the brain (Galas 22)." However, the founders of the Mattachine Society of Washington, Jack Nichols and Frank Kameny, wanted to "reject the medical model" of gays altogether, for they felt that however the medical world saw them was irrelevant, as compared to how gays saw themselves (McGarry 150). In 1965, the Mattachine groups in Washington and New York agreed, and adopted the resolution that "in the absence of valid evidence to the contrary," being gay did not indicate any sort of disease, that homosexuals as a group were different from heterosexuals only in their sexual attraction to members of the same gender (McGarry 151).
Also during this time, gay groups across the country started protesting various aspects of society that discriminated. Most notable was in 1965, the beginning of an annual protest against discrimination, held every July 4th at Independence Hall (McGarry 152). However, these protests "were relatively small affairs, with anywhere from ten to fifty people participating. 'Dress and appearance' were to be 'conservative and conventional' according to Mattachine rules," reflecting the still held hope of proving to the establishment that gays could be just like everyone else (McGarry 152). However, the sentiment among gay groups and gay activists was to fight for their rights, instead of wait for them, part of the overall "Question Authority" feeling that pervaded the 1960's (McGarry 154). Best summarized by the words of a poster for the Students for a Democratic Society: "The Elections Don't Mean Shit. Vote Where The Power Is. Our Power Is In The Street. (McGarry 156)." This proclamation of protest rather than assimilation was also reflected in the "gay power" rhetoric, based on the civil rights "black power," and just "months before Stonewall, Philadelphia's Homophile Action League [said] 'We are living in an age of revolution, and one of the bywords of revolution in this country is "confrontation"'" (McGarry 157).
The most famous and remembered confrontation would come on June 28, 1969, at 3:00 AM, and it would be between the New York City police and patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar; Stonewall Inn (Andryszewski 9). Police raids into gay bars were not unusual, especially during a mayoral race, when the incumbent administration would have the police raid gay bars to gain popularity (McGarry 6). The police didn't expect much resistance, as in almost every past instance, the gay patrons would be submissive to the police (Andryszewski 9).
But this night was different. As Police began filing the patrons out of the bar, a large crowd surrounded the bar, cheering for their gay brothers and sisters being arrested, but these cheers turned into "boos and catcalls" as a police wagon stopped at the bar (McGarry 7). Suddenly, several things happened at once, including one drag queen who attempted to escape arrest, while another drag queen removed her high heel and attacked a police officer, one lesbian freed herself from the officers and threw a rock that broke a window of the Stonewall Inn, and gay men in the crowd started to beat back at the police (McGarry 7). The Crowd started to yell slogans like "Gay Power!" and "Police Brutality!" and began throwing "pennies and beer cans, bottles, and bricks at the eight officers, until the police retreated into the bar, locking the door behind them" (McGarry 8). The mob outside rammed the door down using a parking meter they uprooted, and the barrage continued (McGarry 8). Deputy Inspector Smith, one of the officers recalls, "I've been in combat situations and there was never any time I felt more scared than I felt that night. There was no place to run" (McGarry 8). The mob grew to 400 as word spread about the riot (McGarry 8). Then, the Tactical Patrol Force (TPF) arrived, police units created to deal with riot-control, and broke up the mob (McGarry 8). For the several days, various confrontations occurred between police and gays (Andryszewski 9). On Wednesday, the TPF swept Greenwich Village repeatedly, arresting five, and violently attacking others, leaving Christopher Street looking "like a battlefield in Vietnam. Young people, many of them queens, were lying on the side walk, bleeding from the head, face, mouth, and even the eyes. Others were nursing bruised and often bleeding arms, legs, backs, and necks" (McGarry 13). The riots ended after that (McGarry 13).
Stonewall was not initially seen as an important turning point, at least not by those who participated. Rather, many felt that on that night, they finally felt part of something meaningful, or as Renée Vera Cafiero noted "Stonewall was a spark. It was Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks was not the beginning of the black civil rights movement but somehow she was unifying [. . .] And Stonewall [. . .] was the rallying point" (McGarry 23). Virginia Apuzzo said Stonewall "meant I wasn't alone, I wasn't isolated. I wasn't just with one other person. That there was a 'we' out there to get to know, a 'we' out there to become part of, a 'we' out there to make some contribution to. To make that 'we' ever larger, ever wider, ever more diverse, ever stronger. And I think that's what we're about" (McGarry 22). For years, they had tried to become part of something that had shut them out, but on that night, they realized that they already were part of something, and that it was their own.
However, though the riots themselves had ended, Stonewall set off reverberations that have lasted even now. Stonewall was accurately described by one radio program as "ground zero for and explosion of gay activities" (Galas 27). Frank Kameny, on the same radio program said, "By the time of Stonewall, we had fifty or sixty gay groups in the country. A year later there were at least fifteen hundred, and two years later . . . there were about two thousand. That was the impact of Stonewall" (Galas 27). Jay Barth writes "[Stonewall] and the flurry of activities in their immediate aftermath helped to create [. . .] a split within the movement between assimilationists and those espousing a more radical "Gay Is Good" ideology" (310). The new movement called itself "gay liberation," and they "rejected the medical label 'homosexual' and the euphemistic 'homophile,' and embraced the word 'gay'" (McGarry 160). This stance of pride was very popular, and attendance for protests and pride marches skyrocketed, one parade in NYC in 1970 head around 10,000 people participating (Andryszewski 13).
One group, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a New York City group formed only months after Stonewall, started "direct-action protests in quest of civil rights and protection for homosexuals" (Rubin 308). Instead of looking to the powers at be for support, the GAA rather would confront those "who denigrated homosexuals or who hounded or criminally entrapped them" (Rubin 309). These confrontations were known as "zaps," which entailed actions like, surprising a town or city official while in a public area by shouting "Gay Power," or getting in close and popping a question about their gay rights policies, or holding sit-ins at places that mistreated or discriminated against gays (McGarry 168). The GAA pushed for, and often succeeded in, obtaining equal rights legislation, like anti-discrimination laws for employees (Rubin 309).
However, the assimilationists fought these new groups, for they believed that these confrontation tactics would ruin all they had worked for. Don Slater, long time homophile activist, said in 1970, "We have spent 20 years convincing people that homosexuals are no different than anyone else, and here these kids come along and reinforce what society's thought all along -- that homosexuals are different -- that they're 'queer'. . . To hell with that . . ." (McGarry 162). Jack Nichols makes note of the "schism between gay conservatives and more militant activists" (Nichols 64).
"The counterculture revolution was seen by gay conservatives and by right wing politicos as a threat to the social order. The gay conservatives sought a world in which previously acceptable heterosexual standards were to be implemented in gay circles. They established gay Christian churches, sought to have their own children not through adoptions but through artificial inseminations, suggested imitation establishment marriages, and asked, along with heterosexual males, the right to fight and kill for a belligerent Vietnam-punishing Uncle Sam [. . .] But the straight counterculture, and "the new homosexuals" were going, during the Vietnam war, in another direction, declaring themselves "gay at the draft boards to muddle conscriptions and to denounce the war . . . . (65)"
Nichols and those that agree with him feel that the current culture is "unredeemable" (66) and that gays must not look to the higher class, establishment for approval, that, instead, by having pride and acceptance in oneself, those around one will have to take notice, and they will be have to respect that (66). Like they say, you cannot accept someone who does not accept him or her self.
Stonewall changed the goals of gay rights groups from fighting for gays to be accepted by society to fighting to get gays to accept themselves. Stonewall, history books say, was the start of the modern gay rights movement. But if one were to delve deeper into the lives of those who remember it, it is easy for one to see that Stonewall was more than something political. For years, gays had believed they needed to become like every one else to be fulfilled, that to be in the status quo meant happiness. Because of this, gays forced themselves to deny themselves the possibility of being themselves, made themselves believe that the only way to be successful was to be just like straights. Stonewall meant the end of that disillusionment, the realization that gays did not need the repressive establishment to give them permission to be themselves. Sen. McCarthy had caused so much fear, that gays were afraid of themselves, using pseudonyms when in groups like Mattachine and DOB, being out but only to others who were gay. Their submissive policies, what homophile groups claimed was the way to equality, actually hindered them, for the majority of America saw them as cowards, weak, and therefore trod gays down without fear of retribution. Stonewall ended that, and showed gays everywhere the power of fighting back. Though this idea of resistance existed before Stonewall, the riots proved to many that assimilation was nothing compared to pride. Those who participated in the riots didn't see this as the great turning point in their struggle for equality, it was the night they found that they believed, loved, accepted themselves for who they were, that they could find happiness, and that most of all, they were different from the straight majority, and were proud of the fact. Trying to be someone they weren't only forced them back in the closet. Stonewall meant that gays could finally act, talk . . . breathe . . . freely. By respecting themselves, the heterosexual status quo was forced to take notice that gays were no longer a victim to freely abuse, that gays were people with feelings, hopes, dreams that they had a right pursue. Joan Nestle said "That night in some very deep way, we finally found our place in history, not as a dirty joke, not as a doctor's case study, but as a people" (McGarry 3).