Wednesday April 23 , 2014

GAY CULTURE - CONTINUED

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Gay Pride

Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street and the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history, covering the 51 blocks to Central Park. The march took less than half the scheduled time due to excitement, but also due to wariness about walking through the city with gay banners and signs. Although the parade permit was delivered only two hours before the start of the march, the marchers encountered little resistance from onlookers. The New York Times reported (on the front page) that the marchers took up the entire street for about 15 city blocks. Reporting by The Village Voice was positive, describing "the out-front resistance that grew out of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn one year ago".


Gay Pride marches took place simultaneously in Los Angeles and Chicago.

The next year, Gay Pride marches took place in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. By 1972 the participating cities included Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami, and Philadelphia, as well as San Francisco.

Frank Kameny soon realized the pivotal change brought by the Stonewall riots. An organizer of gay activism in the 1950s, he was used to persuasion, trying to convince heterosexuals that gay people were no different than they were. When he and other people marched in front of the White House, the State Department and Independence Hall only five years earlier, their objective was to look as if they could work for the U.S. government. Ten people marched with Kameny then, and they alerted no press to their intentions. Although he was stunned by the upheaval by participants in the Annual Reminder in 1969, he later observed,

"By the time of Stonewall, we had fifty to sixty gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least fifteen hundred. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was twenty-five hundred."

Similar to Kameny's regret at his own reaction to the shift in attitudes after the riots, Randy Wicker came to describe his embarrassment as "one of the greatest mistakes of his life". The image of gays retaliating against police, after so many years of allowing such treatment to go unchallenged, "stirred an unexpected spirit among many homosexuals".

Kay Lahusen, who photographed the marches in 1965, stated,
"Up to 1969, this movement was generally called the homosexual or homophile movement.... Many new activists consider the Stonewall uprising the birth of the gay liberation movement. Certainly it was the birth of gay pride on a massive scale.'


Within two years of the Stonewall riots there were gay rights groups in every major American city, as well as Canada, Australia, and Western Europe.   People who joined activist organizations after the riots had very little in common other than their same-sex attraction. Many who arrived at GLF or GAA meetings were taken aback by the number of gay people in one place.  

Race, class, ideology, and gender became frequent obstacles in the years after the riots. This was illustrated during the 1973 Stonewall rally when, moments after Barbara Gittings exuberantly praised the diversity of the crowd, feminist activist Jean O'Leary protested what she perceived as the mocking of women by cross-dressers and drag queens in attendance. During a speech by O'Leary, in which she claimed that drag queens made fun of women for entertainment value and profit, Sylvia Rivera and Lee Brewster jumped on the stage and shouted "You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!"

Jean O'Leary - more here

Both the drag queens and lesbian feminists in attendance left in disgust.

O'Leary also worked in the early 1970s to exclude trans people from gay rights issues because she felt that rights for trans people would be too difficult to attain. Sylvia Rivera left gay activism in the 1970s to work on issues for transgender people and cross-dressers. The initial disagreements between participants in the movements, however, often evolved after further reflection. O'Leary later regretted her stance against the drag queens attending in 1973: "Looking back, I find this so embarrassing because my views have changed so much since then. I would never pick on a transvestite now."

"It was horrible. How could I work to exclude transvestites and at the same time criticize the feminists who were doing their best back in those days to exclude lesbians?"

O'Leary was referring to the Lavender Menace, a description by second wave feminist Betty Friedan for attempts by members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) to distance themselves from the perception of NOW as a haven for lesbians. As part of this process, Rita Mae Brown and other lesbians who had been active in NOW were forced out. They staged a protest in 1970 at the Second Congress to Unite Women, and earned the support of many NOW members, finally gaining full acceptance in 1971.

Rita Mae Brown - read more here

The growth of lesbian feminism in the 1970s at times so conflicted with the gay liberation movement that some lesbians refused to work with gay men. Many lesbians found men's attitudes patriarchal and chauvinistic, and saw in gay men the same misguided notions about women as they saw in heterosexual men. The issues most important to gay men—entrapment and public solicitation—were not shared by lesbians. In 1977 a Lesbian Pride Rally was organized as an alternative to sharing gay men's issues, especially what Adrienne Rich termed "the violent, self-destructive world of the gay bars". Veteran gay activist Barbara Gittings chose to work in the gay rights movement, rationalizing "It's a matter of where does it hurt the most? For me it hurts the most not in the female arena, but the gay arena."

Throughout the 1970s gay activism had significant successes. One of the first and most important was the "zap" in May 1970 by the Los Angeles GLF at a convention of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). At a conference on behavior modification, during a film demonstrating the use of electroshock therapy to decrease same-sex attraction, Morris Kight and GLF members in the audience interrupted the film with shouts of "Torture!" and "Barbarism!" They took over the microphone to announce that medical professionals who prescribed such therapy for their homosexual patients were complicit in torturing them. Although 20 psychiatrists in attendance left, the GLF spent the hour following the zap with those remaining, trying to convince them that homosexuals were not mentally ill.



Morris Knight - read more about him here

When the APA invited gay activists to speak to the group in 1972, activists brought John E. Fryer, a gay psychiatrist who wore a mask, because he felt his practice was in danger. In December 1973—in large part due to the efforts of gay activists—the APA voted unanimously to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

John E Fryer - read more about him here

Gay men and lesbians came together to work in grassroots political organizations responding to organized resistance in 1977. A coalition of conservatives named Save Our Children staged a campaign to repeal a civil rights ordinance in Dade County, Florida. Save Our Children was successful enough to influence similar repeals in several American cities in 1978. However, the same year a campaign in California called the Briggs Initiative, designed to force the dismissal of homosexual public school employees was defeated

Briggs Iniative - read more here

Reaction to the influence of Save Our Children and the Briggs Initiative in the gay community was so significant that it has been called the second Stonewall for many activists, marking their initiation into political participation
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Rejection of gay subculture

The Stonewall riots marked such a significant turning point that many aspects of prior gay and lesbian subculture, such as bar culture formed from decades of shame and secrecy, were forcefully ignored and denied. Historian Martin Duberman writes, "The decades preceding Stonewall ... continue to be regarded by most gays and lesbians as some vast neolithic wasteland". Historian Barry Adam notes, "Every social movement must choose at some point what to retain and what to reject out of its past. What traits are the results of oppression and what are healthy and authentic?"


In conjunction with the growing feminist movement of the early 1970s, roles of butch and femme that developed in lesbian bars in the 1950s and 1960s were rejected, because as one writer put it: "all role playing is sick". Lesbian feminists considered the butch roles as archaic imitations of masculine behavior.

Some women, according to Lillian Faderman, were eager to shed the roles they felt forced into playing. The roles returned for some women in the 1980s, although they allowed for more flexibility than before Stonewall.

Author Michael Bronski highlights the "attack on pre-Stonewall culture", particularly gay pulp fiction for men, where the themes often reflected ambivalence about being gay or self-hatred. Many books ended unsatisfactorily and drastically, often with suicide, and writers portrayed their gay characters as alcoholics and deeply unhappy. These books, which he describes as "an enormous and cohesive literature by and for gay men",   have not been reissued and are lost to later generations. Dismissing the reason simply as political correctness, Bronski writes, "gay liberation was a youth movement whose sense of history was defined to a large degree by rejection of the past".

Lasting impact

 
 
 


The riots spawned from a bar raid became a literal example of gays and lesbians fighting back, and a symbolic call to arms for many people. Historian David Carter remarks in his book about the Stonewall riots that the bar itself was a complex business that represented a community center, an opportunity for the Mafia to blackmail its own customers, a home, and a place of "exploitation and degradation".

The true legacy of the Stonewall riots, Carter insists, is the "ongoing struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality". Historian Nicholas Edsall writes,

'Stonewall has been compared to any number of acts of radical protest and defiance in American history from the Boston Tea Party on. But the best and certainly a more nearly contemporary analogy is with Rosa Parks' refusal to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955, which sparked the modern civil rights movement. Within months after Stonewall radical gay liberation groups and newsletters sprang up in cities and on college campuses across America and then across all of northern Europe as well.'

Before the rebellion at the Stonewall Inn, homosexuals were, as historians Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney write,  a secret legion of people, known of but discounted, ignored, laughed at or despised. And like the holders of a secret, they had an advantage which was a disadvantage, too, and which was true of no other minority group in the United States. They were invisible. Unlike African Americans, women, Native Americans, Jews, the Irish, Italians, Asians, Hispanics, or any other cultural group which struggled for respect and equal rights, homosexuals had no physical or cultural markings, no language or dialect which could identify them to each other, or to anyone else ... But that night, for the first time, the usual acquiescence turned into violent resistance ... From that night the lives of millions of gay men and lesbians, and the attitude toward them of the larger culture in which they lived, began to change rapidly. People began to appear in public as homosexuals, demanding respect.'

Historian Lillian Faderman calls the riots the "shot heard round the world", explaining, "The Stonewall Rebellion was crucial because it sounded the rally for that movement. It became an emblem of gay and lesbian power. By calling on the dramatic tactic of violent protest that was being used by other oppressed groups, the events at the Stonewall implied that homosexuals had as much reason to be disaffected as they."

Joan Nestle started the Lesbian Herstory Archives in 1975, and credits "its creation to that night and the courage that found its voice in the streets".Cautious, however, not to attribute the start of gay activism to the Stonewall riots, Nestle writes,  'I certainly don't see gay and lesbian history starting with Stonewall ... and I don't see resistance starting with Stonewall. What I do see is a historical coming together of forces, and the sixties changed how human beings endured things in this society and what they refused to endure.... Certainly something special happened on that night in 1969, and we've made it more special in our need to have what I call a point of origin ... it's more complex than saying that it all started with Stonewall.

The events of the early morning of June 28, 1969 were not the first instances of homosexuals fighting back against police in New York City and elsewhere. Not only had the Mattachine Society been active in major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, but similarly marginalized people started the riot at Compton's Cafeteria in 1966, and another riot responded to a raid on Los Angeles' Black Cat Tavern in 1967.


Compton Cafeteria - read more on the riot here

Black Cat Tavern - read more here
It was from this event at the Black Cat Tavern that the publication The Advocate began as a newspaper for PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education). Together the raid on the Black Cat Tavern and later the raid on The Patch in August 1968 inspired the formation of the Metropolitan Community Church (led by Pastor Troy Perry).

However, several circumstances were in place that made the Stonewall riots memorable. The location of the raid was a factor: it was across the street from The Village Voice offices, and the narrow crooked streets gave the rioters advantage over the police. Many of the participants and residents of Greenwich Village were involved in political organizations that were effectively able to mobilize a large and cohesive gay community in the weeks and months after the rebellion. The most significant facet of the Stonewall riots, however, was the commemoration of them in Christopher Street Liberation Day, which grew into the annual Gay Pride events around the world.

The middle of the 1990s was marked by the inclusion of bisexuals as a represented group within the gay community when they successfully sought to be included on the platform of the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. Despite also requesting to be included, transgender people were instead afforded trans-inclusive language on the march's list of demands. The transgender community continued to find itself simultaneously welcome and at odds with the gay community as attitudes about binary and fluid sexual orientation and gender developed and came increasingly into conflict.

In 1994, New York City celebrated "Stonewall 25" with a march that went past the United Nations Headquarters and into Central Park. Estimates put the attendance at 1.1 million people. Sylvia Rivera led an alternate march in New York City in 1994 to protest the exclusion of transgender people from the events. Attendance at Gay Pride events has grown substantially over the decades. Most large American cities have some kind of Pride demonstration, as do most large cities around the world. Pride events in some cities mark the largest annual celebration of any kind. The growing trend towards commercializing marches into parades—with events receiving corporate sponsorship—has caused concern about taking away the autonomy of the original grassroots demonstrations that put inexpensive activism in the hands of individuals.

In June 1999 the U.S. Department of the Interior designated 51 and 53 Christopher Street, the street itself, and the surrounding streets as a National Historic Landmark, the first of significance to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In a dedication ceremony, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior John Berry stated, "Let it forever be remembered that here—on this spot—men and women stood proud, they stood fast, so that we may be who we are, we may work where we will, live where we choose and love whom our hearts desire."

On June 1, 2009, President Barack Obama declared June 2009 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, citing the riots as a reason to "commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans".

The year marked the 40th anniversary of the riots, giving journalists and activists cause to reflect on progress made since 1969. Frank Rich in The New York Times noted that no federal legislation exists to protect the rights of gay Americans. An editorial in the Washington Blade compared the scruffy, violent activism during and following the Stonewall riots to the lackluster response to failed promises given by President Obama; for being ignored, wealthy LGBT activists reacted by promising to give less money to Democratic causes. Two years later, the Stonewall Inn served as a rallying point for celebrations after the New York Senate voted to pass same-sex marriage. The act was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 24, 2011.

 

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