July 3rd, 2014
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Budapest, Hungary; Bristol, UK; Chelmsford, UK; Cologne, Germany; Lethbridge, AB; Madrid, Spain; Prince George, BC; Sundsvall, Sweden; Surrey, BC; Victoria, BC.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
Larry Box, who had managed the original Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village when it was raided in 1969, moved to Florida and opened Stonewall Too in 1975. This club was in a building that also housed the 8000 Club Hotel, which at one time sold timeshares to gay clientele. At one point the building housed a piano bar, a restaurant, a gym and this disco. Today, the ground floor of the building houses a clinic, while the bright mid-century modern upper levels are used as a photography studio/events space.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► 45 YEARS AGO: Village Voice: “Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square”: 1969. As I said earlier (see Jun 28), much of what we know about the Stonewall Rebellion comes to us from two articles published by the Village Voice on July 3, 1969. The Voice was perfectly situated, both temperamentally and geographically, to alert its counter-cultural audience to the events that unfolded a virtual stone’s throw from its offices. Lucian Truscott IV’s colorful description of the rise of “the forces of faggotry” during the wee hours of Saturday morning got the bigger headline. His liberal use of the words “fags” and other epithets along with an often contemptuous tone would soon result in protests by those very same newly-created gay activists at the Voice’s offices just two months later (see Sep 12). Howard Smith’s much more straightforward account of what happened inside the Stonewall Inn also managed to squeeze its first two paragraphs on the front page.
To set the scene, Truscott reported that the police raid on the Stonewall was the second on that week. It started small, with only two detectives, and two male and two female police officers. They detained the patrons inside, and began releasing some of them one by one as a crowd gathered in the street. The crowd at first was somewhat festive, but when a police paddywagon arrived, the mood changed:
Three of the more blatant queens — in full drag — were loaded inside, along with the bartender and doorman, to a chorus of catcalls and boos from the crowd. A cry went up to push the paddywagon over, but it drove away before anything could happen. With its exit, the action waned momentarily. The next person to come out was a dyke, and she put up a struggle — from car to door to car again. It was at that moment that the scene became explosive. Limp wrists were forgotten. Beer cans and bottles were heaved at the windows, and a rain of coins descended on the cops. At the height of the action, a bearded figure was plucked from the crowd and dragged inside. It was Dave Van Ronk, who had come from the Lion’s Head to see what was going on. He was charged with throwing an object at the police.
Many believe that the “dyke” was probably Stormé DeLarverie, a drag king performer of the 1950s and 1960s, who later worked as a bouncer at several of the city’s lesbian bars. There’s also this anacronism that bears explanation: why did the crowd throw coins? Most likely they were mostly throwing pennies — copper pennies — against the “coppers” in uniform, using the least valuable coin available as a both a taunt and a projectile. It was not an unusual practice in the 1960s.
This would be a good point to switch to Howard Smith’s account from inside the bar. He had been sticking close to Inspector Seymour Pine, the officer in charge of the raid, when the paddy-wagon left and the crowd grew angry. As bottles began flying, Pine ordered his officers inside the bar for cover, and convinced Smith to come inside where “you’re probably safer.”
In goes me. We bolt the heavy door. The front of the Stonewall is mostly brick except for the windows, which are boarded within by plywood. Inside we hear the shattering of windows, followed by what we imagine to be bricks pounding on the door, voices yelling. The floor shudders at each blow. “Aren’t you guys scared?” I say.
“No.” But they look at least uneasy.
The door crashes open. Beer cans and bottles hurtle in. Pine and his troop rush to shut it. At that point the only uniformed cop among them gets hit with something under his eye. He hollers, and his hand comes away scarlet. It looks a lot more serious than it really is. They are all suddenly furious. Three run out in front to see if they can scare the mob from the door. A hail of coins. A beer can glances off Deputy Inspector Smyth’s head.
Pine, a man of about 40 and smallish build, gathers himself, leaps out into the melee, and grabs someone around the waist, pulling him downward and back into the doorway. They fall. Pine regains hold and drags the elected protester inside by the hair. The door slams again. Angry cops converge on the guy releasing their anger on this sample from the mob. … And while the other cops help, he (the cop who was cut) slaps the prisoner five or six times very hard and finishes with a punch to the mouth. They handcuff the guy as he almost passes out. “All right,” Pine announces, “we’ll book him for assault.” The door is open again. More objects are thrown in. The detectives locate a fire hose, the idea being to ward off the madding crowd until reinforcements arrive. They can’t see where to aim it, wedging the hose in a crack in the door. It sends out a weak stream.”
That man who was dragged inside was Dave Van Ronk, who Truscott mentioned in his article. Switching back to Truscott’s narrative:
Three cops were necessary to get Van Ronk away from the crowd and into the Stonewall. The exit left no cops on the street, and almost by signal the crowd erupted into cobblestone and bottle heaving. The reaction was solid: they were pissed. The trashcan I was standing on was nearly yanked out from under me as a kid tried to grab it for use in the window smashing melee. From nowhere came an uprooted parking meter — used as a battering ram on the Stonewall door. I heard several cries of “Let’s get some gas,” but the blaze of flame which soon appeared in the window of the Stonewall was still a shock.
Back inside, Smith describes how that fire very nearly led to the police shooting into the crowd:
Pine places a few men on each side of the corridor leading away from the entrance. They aim unwavering at the door. One detective arms himself in addition with a sawed-off baseball bat he has found. I hear, “We’ll shoot the first motherfucker that comes through the door.” … I can only see the arm at the window. It squirts a liquid into the room, and a flaring match follows. Pine is not more than 10 feet away. He aims his gun at the figures.
He doesn’t fire. The sound of sirens coincides with the whoosh of flames where the lighter fluid was thrown. Later, Pine tells me he didn’t shoot because he had heard the sirens in time and felt no need to kill someone if help was arriving. It was that close.
With backup on hand, police cleared the streets. According to Truscott, the immediate battle was over in forty-five minutes, although other accounts describe running street battles continuing for the rest of the night, with police cars damaged, trash cans set ablaze and windows broken out inÃ‚ area banks and storefronts. According to Truscott, thirteen were arrested taht night, and two police officers were injured. Quiet was restored that night, and the Stonewall’s management quickly got the bar ready to re-open and get everything back to normal for Saturday night, as it always had before. But this time occupiers of Sheridan Square had other plans. Again, Truscott:
Friday night’s crowd had returned and was being led in “gay power” cheers by a group of gay cheerleaders. “We are the Stonewall girls/ We wear our hair in curls/ We have no underwear/ We show our pubic hairs!” The crowd was gathered across the street from the Stonewall and was growing with additions of onlookers, Eastsiders, and rough street people who saw a chance for a little action. …As the “gay power” chants on the street rose in frequency and volume, the crowd grew restless. The front of the Stonewall was losing its attraction, despite efforts by the owners to talk the crowd back into the club….
The people on the street were not to be coerced. “Let’s go down the street and see what’s happening, girls,” someone yelled. And down the street went the crowd, smack into the Tactical Patrol Force, who had been called earlier to disperse the crowd and were walking west on Christopher from Sixth Avenue. Formed in a line, the TPF swept the crowd back to the corner of Waverly Place where they stopped. A stagnant situation there brought on some gay tomfoolery in the form of a chorus line facing the helmeted and club-carrying cops. Just as the line got into a full kick routine, the TPF advanced again and cleared the crowd of screaming gay powerites down Christopher to Seventh Avenue. The street and park were then held from both ends, and no one was allowed to enter — naturally causing a fall-off in normal Saturday night business, even at the straight Lion’s Head and 55. The TPF positions in and around the square were held with only minor incident — one busted head and a number of scattered arrest — while the cops amused themselves by arbitrarily breaking up small groups of people up and down the avenue. The crowd finally dispersed around 3:30 A.M.
Other accounts have the Saturday night uprising as being more widespread and more violent than Truscott’s description. People were beaten with nightsticks, and tear gas was deployed in front of the Stonewall to try to break up the crowd.
The crowds gathered again on Sunday night, but according to Truscott, it was a somewhat quieter night with police and TPF out in force. In fact, unrest and police confrontations would go continue for another three nights. But Truscott’s account ended on a triumphal note Sunday:
Allen Ginsberg and Taylor Mead walked by to see what was happening and were filled in on the previous evenings’ activities by some of the gay activists. “Gay power! Isn’t that great! ” Allen said. “We’re one of the largest minorities in the country — 10 per cent, you know. It’s about time we did something to express ourselves.”
Ginsberg expressed a desire to visit the Stonewall — “You know, I’ve never been in there ” — and ambled on down the street, flashing peace signs and helloing the TPF. It was a relief and a kind of joy to see him on the street. He lent an extra umbrella of serenity of the scene with his laughter and quiet commentary on consciousness, “gay power” as a new movement, and the various implications of what had happened. I followed him into the Stonewall, where rock music blared from speakers all around a room that might have come right from a Hollywood set of a gay bar. He was immediately bouncing and dancing wherever he moved.
He left, and I walked east with him. Along the way, he described how things used to be. “You know, the guys there were so beautiful — they’ve lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago.” It was the first time I had heard this crowd described as beautiful.
We reached Cooper Square, and as Ginsberg turned to head toward home, he waved and yelled, “Defend the fairies!” and bounced on across the square. He enjoyed the prospect of “gay power” and is probably working on a manifesto for the movement right now. Watch out. The liberation is under way.
[Sources: Lucian Truscott IV. “Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square.” Village Voice 14, no. 38 (July 3, 1969): 1, 18. Available online via the Google Newspaper Archive here.
Howard Smith. “View from Inside: Full Moon Over the Stonewall.” Village Voice 14, no. 38 (July 3, 1969): 1, 25, 29. Available online via the Google Newspaper Archive here.]
► Civil Service Commission Begins Hiring Gay People: 1975. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded to both the “Red Scare” and the “Lavender Scare” stoked by Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist and anti-gay hearings by signing an executive order mandating the firing of all federal employees who were found guilty of “sexual perversion” — government-speak for homosexuality (see Apr 27). Untold thousands lost their jobs in the ensuing decades, including one astronomer by the name of Frank Kameny, who was fired in 1957 (see Dec 20). He protested his firing, and argued his case in federal court all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court refused to hear the case in 1961, making his firing permanent. Kameny went on to become a leading gay-rights activist, and while his efforts extended to opposition to all aspects of discrimination and oppression, the federal employment ban never strayed far from his top concerns. Kameny supported others who had been fired in their efforts to get their jobs back and organized several protests and meetings at the commission’s Washington, D.C. headquarters throughout the next two decades (see, for example, Sept 28, Jun 26).
While Kameny’s case was the first legal challenge, it wasn’t the last. Several others followed suit, but most federal judges sided with the government’s position upholding the Civil Service Commission’s rules. But in 1973, after a federal judge in California ordered the commission to cease labeling gay people as unfit for federal employment, the commission decided to review its policies. By 1975, the commission finally amended its regulations and ended its ban on employing gays in the federal government. The decision however was not accompanied by a formal announcement. Instead, supervisors were quietly instructed that no one was to be barred for homosexuality. But news of the change did slowly leak out. According to Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price in their book Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court, Frank Kameny learned of the change via a phone call on a Thursday before the Fourth of July weekend. Federal personnel officials “surrendered to me on July 3rd, 1975,” he recalled. “They called me up to tell me they were changing their policies to suit me. And that was the end of it.”
► Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals: 1981. That was the headline the New York Times used to announce a new set of illnesses stalking gay men. The Times article, the first mainstream media report about of what would eventually become known as AIDS, came out just a month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first announced that five gay men had died of a rare form of pneumonia in Los Angeles (see Jun 5). Now the CDC issued another notice of gay men in New York and California being stricken with Kaposi’s Sarcoma in the July 3 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report:
During the past 30 months, Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS), an uncommonly reported malignancy in the United States, has been diagnosed in 26 homosexual men (20 in New York City [N YC ]; 6 in California). The 26 patients range in age from 26-51 years (mean 39 years). Eight of these patients died (7 in NYC, 1 in California)—all 8 within 24 months after KS was diagnosed. The diagnoses in all 26 cases were based on histopathological examination o f skin lesions, lymph nodes, or tumor in other organs. Twenty-five of the 26 patients were white, 1 was black. …
Skin or mucous membrane lesions, often dark blue to violaceous plaques or nodules, were present in most of the patients on their initial physician visit. However, these lesions were not always present and often were considered benign by the patient and his physician. …
Seven KS patients had serious infections diagnosed after their initial physician visit. Six patients had pneumonia (4 biopsy confirmed as due to Pneumocystis carinii [PC]), and one had necrotizing toxoplasmosis of the central nervous system. One of the patients with Pneumocystis pneumonia also experienced severe, recurrent, herpes simplex infection; extensive candidiasis; and cryptococcal meningitis.
This report, which noted that gay men were developing KS “during the past 30 months” confirmed rumors that had been swirling in New York of a “gay cancer.” Until then, KS had been extremely rare, affecting mainly older men of Mediterranean descent, Africans in the equatorial belt, and transplant patients who were on anti-rejection drugs that suppressed their immune systems. The CDC report also updated their count of gay men with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) from the prior month, from five to fifteen.
[Sources: A. Friedman-Kein, L. Laubenstein, M. Marmor, et al. “Epidemiologic Notes and Reports: Kaposi’s Sarcoman and Pneumocystis Pneumonia among homosexual men — New York City and California.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 30, no. 25 (July 3, 1981): 305.308. Available online here (PDF: 705KB/12 pages).
Lawrence K. Altman. “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexual Men.” New York Times (July 3, 1981): 20.]
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