Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Time in its flight; the Stonewall uprising

We were sitting around the dinner table the other day when a friend said --- several times --- "I just can't believe 1991 was 20 years ago."

"And that 1971 was 40 years ago," I could have added, but don't think I did. Time sure flies --- whether you're having fun or not.

Next month will be the 42nd anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, an event I didn't notice at the time --- nor did many other people --- even though I was actually on the East Coast then, stationed at Fort Holabird in Baltimore when the rising commenced on June 28, 1969, in New York City's Greenwich Village.

That was a heck of a long time ago, youngsters would say; not long at all, those of us no longer youngsters would counter.

Although little noted then among the general public, the rising at the Stonewall Inn, a bar, initiated the rise of the gay rights/gay pride movement around the world.

The fact same-sex marriage now is legal in Iowa can be traced to it; the holy wars over marriage we've been treated to in Iowa and elsewhere lately continue to reflect its power. And LGBT people around the world will mark its significance during the anniversary month with PrideFests large and small. PrideFest in Des Moines will be held June 10-13; similar events will be held in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, the Quad Cities and elsewhere during the same period. There even will be a Gay Day at Adventureland. Who would have thunk it?


So it's a good time to watch the 2010 documentary "Stonewall Uprising," which aired during late April on PBS's "American Experience." Those of us who are LGBTQ need to remember where we came from. Wouldn't hurt those who wish we still were there to watch it either. A brief introduction to context would allow those who hanker for the good old bad old days to at least sound a little bit better informed.

You can still watch it online for now at least by going to the "American Experience" Web site, which is here. The film also is available on DVD.


The Stonewall rising grew out of the cultural context people of my age grew up in --- when homophobia was culturally and religiously enshrined as well as government sponsored, as some uncomfortable with uppity minorities of any sort wish it still were.

Gay people had begun to gather in urban areas like New York City after World War I, and that movement accekerated  after World War II as increasing numbers of young men and women discovered during their service that there were many others like them and chose to stay in cities and  not to return to heterosexual bucolia.

Blacks had their churches to sustain them during times of trial, but gay people didn't. The Rev. Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles during 1968, but that was the first --- and for years thereafter --- the only gay-affirming ministry out there.

So bars became the focal points in many instances for LGBT people, strong drink and sex alternate sacraments.

One of those bars was the Stonewall Inn, a Mafia-run watering hole in Greenwich Village, subject to reguar raids by New York police. During one of those raids, on June 28, 1969, Stonewall patrons --- drag queens, hustlers, regular guys and gals --- just declined to cooperate and cornered the cops. In the days that followed, thousands gathered in the neighbrhood to protest and in doing so effectively broke the back of officially-sanctioned persecution in that city.

These sometimes are called the Stonewall "riots," but few were injured, no one was killed and property damage was minimal so "uprising" probably is the more accurate descriptor.

The power of the event was more in the example it set for gay people rather than it's actual physical impact. In New York during the months immediately following, gay activist organizations were formed, newspapers promoting rights for gay men and lesbians were founded, pro-gay organizing spread across the United States and the world, and on June 28, 1970, the first gay pride marches were held in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Those worldwide parades now involve millions.

Who'd have thought such a seemingly insignificant even could have such power. God sure does move in mysterios ways some days.

No comments: