Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation


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Three nights of rioting ensued in Greenwich Village, during which the tactical police force were called in. Despite the elevated police presence, the press reported what gays already knew: when the final score was tallied, they had won.

The spirit of Stonewall and what it represented, in part, inspired the creation of new gay organizations that had a more direct and confrontational approach to gay rights and liberation. Gay liberation did not emerge fully formed from Stonewall, but was both a continuation of, and a reaction to, the Homophile Movement and also built upon the gay and lesbian community networks created within working-class bar cultures.

The Stonewall Uprising, therefore, was not a beginning, a point of departure, so much as it was a change in the tone and tempo of an existing movement — a turning point. The Tiki was a Polynesian-themed bar located at Franklin Street in downtown Buffalo, a mid-sized industrial city located on the edge of the midwest. Owned by Jim Garrow, a transplant to Western New York from Florida and a popular fixture in the gay community of the s, the bar was known for its garish decor, which included carved Tiki-head figurines and plastic palm trees.

Opened in and closed by the end of , the Tiki existed during a decade when Buffalo gay bars rarely stayed open for long.

The Stonewall Riots: What Really Happened, What Didn’t, and What Became Myth

Prior to the s, Buffalo had a thriving gay bar scene. Corruption within the Buffalo Police Department allowed bar owners to pay off Bureau of Vice Investigation officers to avoid harassment, liquor license violations, and closure. Rockefeller campaigned, and was voted into office, on a promise to clean up corruption within state police departments. He was assisted in his efforts by Kenneth P.

During the s, similar to alleged communists, gay and lesbians were viewed as threats to national security and purged from the federal government. By , a dry spell existed, and few gay bars were operational in Buffalo. The crackdown was further intensified by the race riot that occurred on the East Side of the city from June 26th through July 1st of that year. The Tiki was one such bar established during the post relocation. Buffalo bar raids were not the dramatic affairs they often were in large cities such as New York where gay bars were equipped with bells or flashing lights to alert patrons of raids and police would theatrically load patrons into paddy wagons as a way to publicly shame those arrested.

Nevertheless, Buffalo gays and lesbians were similarly angered by the Tiki raids.

Stonewall: A riot that changed millions of lives

By January of , a fledgling gay liberation organization was formed: the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier. Though the Stonewall Inn Riots are often credited with sparking the modern American Gay Rights Movement, in reality, a liberationist mentality developed across the country parallel to the events of Stonewall as gays and lesbians responded to the oppressive conditions of their respective cities and towns. There is no definitive account of the Stonewall Inn Riots, in part, because Stonewall is not only an historical event, but a cultural myth.

Myths are more complicated than that. A myth, in the classic sense, is a narrative or story that plays a fundamental role in society because it tells a people something about who and what they are, and in the case of an origin myth, where they come from. The Stonewall myth is useful in that it historically functioned, and continues to operate, as a narrative through which LGBTQ people can identify and come together to enact change.

The danger of the Stonewall myth, however, lies in the fact that it has become not only one story LGBTQ people tell about themselves, but the story we tell about ourselves. Stonewall is not just a narrative, but a metanarrative: a totalizing account regarded as a universal truth that excludes other narrative threads and possibilities.

When we situate Stonewall as the genesis, the point of origin, of the modern Gay Rights Movement, we exclude the impact of labor movements, the Black Civil Rights Movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, youth counterculture, and the broader sexual revolution on gay liberation. As the Buffalo Tiki raids show us, Stonewall as point of origin also ignores the contributions and experiences of working-class gays and lesbians, such as the tough bar lesbians written about by Kennedy and Davis, to gay liberation. Centering Stonewall has typically resulted in an understanding of the Gay Rights Movement that is white-male centered and exclusionary to lesbians, queer people of color, trans and gender nonconforming people, and working-class queers.

It presents a vision of LGBTQ American history that is centered on large coastal cities to the omission of the rest of the country and makes parallel organizing, like the work of gays and lesbians in Buffalo, New York, invisible. Finally, the Stonewall metanarrative limits models of LGBTQ activism both in the past and at present, as the activism that takes place in large cosmopolitan cities is not always applicable to rural communities and mid-sized cities.

Political liberation and legal equality

While the Stonewall origin myth is not wholly devoid of purpose, Stonewall is not the full story, and presenting a more holistic history of gay liberation is essential to effective LGBTQ organizing in the present. Sign in.

The Stonewall Riots: How the gay rights movement began

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From Stonewall to the Present, Fifty Years of L.G.B.T.Q. Rights

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We just On June 28, , New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, ostensibly to bust an illegal Mafia-owned establishment selling watered-down liquor without a license. But police also abused the patrons as they had done to gays many times before. On June 6, just weeks before the city was expected to welcome 4 million visitors to mark 50 years since the uprising, the New York Police Department apologized for the first time for the raid. New York has been designated the site of World Pride this year and parades around the globe are set for June It all started with those who were kicked out of the bar and onto Christopher Street that night.

They gathered near the door, soon to be joined by an unruly crowd. The crowd grew larger, and more restless, hurling bricks, fuel-filled bottles and garbage cans. Some people tried to light the place on fire, while others battered the plywood window with a parking meter.

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Eventually, the fire department and police riot squad known as the Tactical Patrol Force TPF arrived, breaking up the crowd. But there was more rioting and street battles with the TPF the next night, and an atmosphere of more subdued tension lingered in Greenwich Village for a few more days before one final night of outrage.

Suddenly, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people were motivated and organized.

Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation
Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation
Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation
Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation
Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation
Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation
Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation
Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation
Stonewall: Stories of Gay Liberation

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