The Daily Agenda for Wednesday, September 12
September 12th, 2012
Other Events This Weekend: Best Buck in the Bay Rodeo, La Honda, CA.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Gay Liberation Front Protests Village Voice: 1969. More than two months had passed since the landmark Stonewall uprising, but New York’s news media was still unable to grapple with what that night of defiance really meant. The New York Times buried the story on page thirty-three, and didn’t bother to mention why the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back. The New York Daily News reported the whole thing, on page thirty, from the police’s point of view (“3 Cops Hurt As Bar Raid Riles Crowd”). The Daily News followed on July 6 with the infamous report, “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.”
If it weren’t for the Village Voice’s extensive coverage, much of what we know about the Stonewall might have been lost to history. The Voice did have one advantage that New York’s more powerful media didn’t: it was located on Christopher Street, just a few doors down from the Stonewall. The July 3 edition of the weekly newspaper featured two front page stories about the riot: “Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square” by Lucian Truscott IV, who reported what took place outside of the Stonewall. A second reporter, Howard Smith, arrived at the scene during the first raid just as police were loosing control of the crowd. Smith was drawn inside the bar as police retreated inside for protection from the crowd. That experience led to “From the Inside: Full Moon Over The Stonewall.”
While the Voice’s reporting on the rebellion was the most thorough and detailed of all the city’s news outlets, it wasn’t above the kind of mocking tone and prejudicial stereotypes that were typical at that time. Truscott wrote of “the forces of faggotry,” “blatant queens,” and the “limped wrists and primed hair” battling police, which he described as “the city’s finest.” Smith’s report was less colorful, yet he couldn’t resist calling one lesbian a “dyke.” On July 10, Walter Troy Spencer called the riot “the Great Faggot Rebellion,” and laced his entire column with sneering disdain (“… a lot of that weekend swishy cruising on the streets around the Stonewall had gotten flamboyant and aggressive…”).
In the aftermath of the riot, the gay community began to organize and protest police harassment. In August, the newly formed Gay Liberation Front tried to place two small ads in the free Bulletin Board section of the Village Voice to publicize its community dances. Newspaper staff deleted the word “gay,” arguing that it was obscene — even though they routinely accepted, without question, ads for apartments from landlords specifying “no gays.” The Voice had a reputation for being one of the most liberal papers in the country. That liberalism extended to its policy allowing its writers to say anything they wanted. While no writer would have dreamed of using derogatory language to describe black people, “faggots” and “blatant queens” were allowed — with the editors defending the decisions on freedom of expression. That freedom, however, didn’t extend to its Bulletin Board section.
The Gay Liberation Front struck back with a protest at the Village Voice on Friday morning, September 12 at 9:00 a.m, demanding a meeting with publisher Ed Fancher. The protest went on all day as Fancher stubbornly refused to meet with the group. Later that afternoon, a protester tried to place a classified ad reading, “The Gay Liberation Front sends love to all Gay men and women in the homosexual community.” That ad was rejected. But soon after, Fancher agreed to meet three of the protesters’ representatives. He angrily defended his writers right to use derogatory language, but agreed to rescind the ban on accepting ads with the words “gay” and “homosexual.” The Voice’s next edition didn’t see fit to report on the protest at its front door, but the GLF ad did appear in that issue’s Bulletin Board.
[Additional source: Edward Alwood. Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996): 88-91.]
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