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Posts for September, 2010

Seymour Pine, Cop Who Led Stonewall Raid, Dies at 91

Jim Burroway

September 8th, 2010

Seymour Pine, the deputy police inspector who led the 1969 raid on the Stonewall Inn, died Thursday at an assisted-living center in Whippany, N.J. He was 91. According to The New York Times:

In 2004, Inspector Pine spoke during a discussion of the Stonewall uprising at the New-York Historical Society. At the time of the raid, he said, the police “certainly were prejudiced” against gays, “but had no idea about what gay people were about.”

The department regularly raided gay clubs for two reasons, he said. First, he insisted, many clubs were controlled by organized crime; second, arresting gay people was a way for officers to improve their arrest numbers. “They were easy arrests,” he said. “They never gave you any trouble” — at least until that night.

When someone in the audience said Inspector Pine should apologize for the raid, he did.

Pine figures prominently in a forthcoming two-hour documentary, “Stonewall Uprising,” which will air as part of PBS’s American Experience in 2011. The documentary is currently playing at LGBT film festivals around the country. The documentary ends with Pine saying, “You knew they broke the law, but what kind of law was that?”

Thank You, Raymond Castro

Timothy Kincaid

June 29th, 2009
Raymond Castro 1969

Raymond Castro 1969

Forty years and a day ago, Raymond Castro was arrested for his part in the Stonewall Riots. (msnbc)

“When the police raided the place, I was outside,” Castro remembered. “Then I remembered a friend inside who did not have a false ID and he was going to get in trouble, so I went inside to give him one.” (Many of the police raids, he said, resulted in arrests for underage drinking). “Once I got inside, the police wouldn’t let us out. It got really hot. I remember throwing punches and resisting arrest. The police handcuffed me and threw me in the paddy wagon. But I sprung back up, like a leap frog, and when I did that I knocked the police down.”

Castro then got out of town and spent the next forty years as a baker – 30 of them with Frankie Sturniolo – building a life around caring for friends and family .

Raymond Castro in 2009

Raymond Castro in 2009

In fact, it was not until David Carter, a historian and author of “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution,” called Castro that he started publicly reflecting on the events of 40 years ago.

But for every day of those forty years our community has owned him a debt of gratitude. Thank you, Raymond, for the part you played in our ongoing fight for freedom and equality.

Today In History: “Homo Nest Raided”

Jim Burroway

June 28th, 2009
The Stonwall Inn raid. (NY Daily News)

The Stonewall Inn raid. (Joseph Ambrosini, NY Daily News)

Forty years ago today, in the very early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York police attempted a raid on a Greenwich Village gay nightclub known as the Stonewall Inn. This wasn’t the first time New York police raided a gay bar, but this was the first time that patrons — for whatever reason; nobody knows exactly why — decided to fight back. The situation escalated into a full-blown riot that night, with more rioting breaking out again the next night and over the next several days.

To get just a small sense of the daily insults those patrons experienced back then, all you have to do is read the news reports about the rebellion. The New York Times buried its first day’s coverage to a very small article on page 33. If coverage was more prominent elsewhere, it was also more contemptuous. Kevin Neff at The Washington Blade posted this mocking report by the New York Daily News:

Homo Nest Raided
Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad

By JERRY LISKER, New York Daily News, July 6, 1969

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn’t bothered to shave.

A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt.

New York City experienced its first homosexual riot.

Last Thursday, the New York Daily News ran a very different story about the Stonewall riots. This time, coverage was considerably more respectful:

Veterans of those 1969 riots outside of Stonewall – a then Mafia-run, Christopher St. bar that allowed gays to dance and drink – are still focusing on the fights ahead of them, namely legalizing same-sex marriage.

“The parallel is gay people are still fighting to be seen as full human beings and want someone to have and to hold. And the first place we were able to have and to hold is when we danced at Stonewall,” said Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, 61.

Lanigan-Schmidt, who was 18 when he left his parents’ New Jersey home with less than a dollar in his pocket, saw the Stonewall as a place where he could finally be free, a spot where he could slow-dance and socialize openly.

“You felt protected there,” he said. “It became a place that I was able to be myself.”

When a phalanx of police raided the place and broke down its double doors on June 28, launching days of protests outside, patrons had reached their breaking point.

“That night was a joyous night for a lot of us,” said Jerry Hoose, 64, who described the atmosphere as like Carnival, but with energy and purpose.

The great saga of the Stonewall Inn Rebellion has been told and retold like a great legend around the communal fire. It’s a story that would fill a book, and for some that book would be a very sacred one. Instead of trying to retell the whole story, I’ll simply refer you to the Wikipedia page, which is a decent primer on those pivotal events. Better still, look at the original police reports and first-hand accounts at historian Jonathan Ned Katz’s amazing OutHistory.

White House protest, April 1965

White House protest, April 1965

But like all creation myths told around the campfire, this one often presumes that Stonewall was where everything began, that before Stonewall there was nothing. Of course, we know that’s not true. Two and a half years before Stonewall, there was the Black Cat riot in Los Angeles, when patrons at the Black Cat bar fought back against police who tried to arrest them for exchanging New Year’s kisses.  (Police charged one couple for kissing each other “on the mouth for three to five seconds.”) A year before the Black Cat riot, there were sit-ins that led to a riot in San Francisco when Compton’s Cafeteria, refusing to serve its gay customers, called the police. A year before the Compton Cafeteria riot, there were sit-ins at two restaurants in Philadelphia which led to their backing down from similar discriminatory practices. That same year and as a separate set of events, pickets first appeared in front of the White House and Independence Hall. And eleven years before Stonewall, a gay magazine managed to get the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in its favor as it fought indecency charges.

Tensions between LGBT crowd and police continued for several nights after the raid (Larry Morris, New York Times)

Tensions between LGBT crowd and police continued for several nights after the raid (Larry Morris, New York Times)

So if there was a birth of the modern gay-rights movement, it must be marked sometime before Stonewall. To refuse to do so would be to dismiss the remarkable achievements of those who resisted before. The Stonewall rebellion wasn’t much different from previous acts of gay disobedience, but it became different because it happened at a very crucial time.

The Stonewall rebellion caught the American zeitgeist in a way that the Black Cat riot missed, probably because the Black Cat riot, happening when it did in the first few minutes of 1967, was just ever so slightly ahead of its time. America went on to change dramatically between 1967 and 1969. The Summer of Love arrived just a few months following the Black Cat raid in 1967, two beloved leaders were assassinated in 1968, and by 1969 there was widespread campus unrest over the Vietnam War and demands for racial equality. So when Stonewall came around, it wasn’t just a rebellion against a repressive local police force; it became something much bigger because it happened within the context of a much larger set of movements challenging the status quo.

A crowd of gay and lesbian revelers in front of the Stonewall Inn, June 1969, sometime before the raid.

Gays and lesbians in front of the Stonewall Inn, June 1969.

So like all creation myths, it almost doesn’t matter whether Stonewall was the first but only that it happened. It’s Stonewall that has become our touchstone, to stretch a metaphoric pun. And as a touchstone, Stonewall is global. The very word no longer needs translation. Simply utter “Stonewall,” untranslated, to anyone speaking any language today (In Russian for example, just say “Стоунволла,” pronounced “Stounvolla”), and people will know instantly what you’re talking about. I said Stonewall is our creation myth, but since many see it as the birth of the modern gay rights movement (rightly or wrongly), maybe it’s better to say that it’s our Nativity Story. We’ve divided our history between pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall just like Christianity divided the calendar based on another historic Nativity. And as with that Nativity, Stonewall marked the arrival of a new era and nothing would be the same ever again.

But that metaphor — Stonewall as a Nativity story — is unsatisfactory as well. We’re not an ancient people seeking to understand where we came from, nor are we a people awaiting a long-promised messiah who will come to save us. We are American citizens claiming our birthright. While Stonewall is now a universal touchstone the world over, the story of Stonewall is, for us Americans at least, a solidly American story more than anything else. Because they fought back, the Stonewall Inn became our Lexington and the defiant leaflets which littered the streets in the immediate aftermath were our Declaration of Independence. Stonewall reminds us that this imperfect Union still has not delivered on its promises to all its citizens, and Stonewall spurs us on to make this Union more perfect. Stonewall is yet another milestone in our country’s ongoing journey to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity. That noble task is not yet finished.

Benkof’s Continuing Parade of Lies and Deception

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2008

benkof.jpgI hesitate to write a new posting about David Benkof. I’m of the impression that much of his effort in writing anti-gay rants is based in a desire to see his name in print. However, I also recognize that he has been fairly successful in getting his views heard and I believe it is necessary to provide clear documentation of the lies and deceptions that he employs.

I’ll not argue with his views, because to do so is pointless. Absent my ability to persuade him that G-d did not write the Torah, there are no convincing or compelling arguments that would sway his opinions. But I will challenge his “facts”.

If this posting seems a bit dry, that’s because its intent is to provide an update to the examples of dishonesty illustrated in our report, David Benkof: Behind the Mask

Misrepresentation and Deceit
In an opinion piece which ran in the Providence Journal on June 18 in which Benkof argues that “our society should keep its highest place of honor for families that represent the best configuration for the raising of children — families with both a mother and a father”, Benkof said the following:

Now, many gays and lesbians would like more, if not all, young people to investigate the dress and behavior of both sexes. They would favor social change that leads more children to be attracted to and to experiment sexually with members of the same sex. And certainly, they think anything that reduces sexually stereotyped career goals and social interactions is a good thing.

A few gays and lesbians have been open about this attitude. For example, Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the Associated Press she felt “elation” when she heard about a study showing that children of same-sex parents “may be somewhat more likely to reject notions of rigid sexual orientation.”

I was curious whether Kate Kendall had “this attitude” about sexual experimentation and dress and behavior investigation. So I asked.

I’m sure it will surprise no one that Benkof was mischaracterizing Kendall’s position.

Wow, I have not seen this. We certainly support eliminating sexism and discrimination based on gender non-conformity but the rest of this is utter distortion and clearly intended to inflame.

kate

False Claims of Columnist and Column
In a June 23 posting on his site, Benkof said the following:

It’s not about marriage per se, but my column for Pride month that questions what was so great about the Stonewall rebellion is up at the Web site of the Macon, Georgia Telegraph. The column is consistent with my complaint that gays and lesbians are so focused on being “equal” that they have no compassion for who they hurt, whether it’s orphans, Boy Scouts, or in this case, New York City cops.

Benkof provided a link to the “column” that he was discussing which “was up at” the Georgia Telegraph. The link did not lead to a column in the paper. It led to a letter to the editor.

Although Benkof had indicated on June 16th on this site that he would change his deceptive language about being a columnist to “writer whose columns have been seen in”, in this letter to the editor, Benkof again used the following self identification

David Benkof is a columnist for several gay newspapers around the country. He blogs at GaysDefendMarriage.com and can be reached at DavidBenkof@aol.com

Stonewall Deceptions
In his letter to the editor, Benkof presents a description of the Stonewall Riots that seems inconsistent with other reports. In his rush to criticize gay people (this time for having no compassion), Benkof said the following

But the circumstances of gay life in the late 1960s, while certainly pain-filled and oppressive, did not justify spilling blood.

Spilling blood? What blood?

The term “spilling blood” generally refers to loss of life. But no one died at Stonewall.

Could Benkof be unaware of that fact? Perhaps he’s just not well versed in the facts?

As it turns out, there is an article on PlanetOut.com about the Stonewall Riots written by none other than David Bianco, which was Benkof’s name prior to his anti-gay rebirth.

Eyewitnesses recalled that the scene outside the bar was at first campy and festive. Patrons were joined by tourists and passers-by, and everyone cheered when a gay person emerged from the bar, dismissed by the police. But when a paddy wagon arrived and the police loaded the bar’s staff and the three drag queens inside, the crowd on the street grew surly. One person threw a rock through a window, and eventually garbage cans, bottles, and even a parking meter were used to assault the building. Someone set a fire with lighter fluid. By newspaper accounts, 13 people were arrested and three police officers sustained minor injuries in the confrontation.

Let’s see how that compares with Benkof’s current description.

Benkof: The demonstrations were sparked by a legitimate police raid on an unlicensed, Mafia-run bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village the night of June 27, 1969.

Bianco: The charge was illegal sale of alcohol. It was the second time that week the bar had been targeted by the police, and other gay bars had also been raided in prior weeks.

Incidentally, the police involved in the raid tell a different story, it was a raid by out-of-precint officers using a fraudulent “tip” about a police officer being stabbed.

Benkof: At least four cops were injured in the unrest, suffering maladies like broken bones and a bloody facial wound. One cop told a reporter he was “almost decapitated” by a thick slab of sharp glass a rioter threw “like a discus” at his throat.

Bianco: By newspaper accounts, 13 people were arrested and three police officers sustained minor injuries in the confrontation.

The “reporter” was Jerry Lisker writing a purple prose piece for the New York Daily News entitled “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad“. Even the slightest glance at this piece reveals that accuracy was the last thing on Lisker’s agenda (“Queens, princesses and ladies-in-waiting began hurling anything they could get their polished, manicured fingernails on. Bobby pins, compacts, curlers, lipstick tubes and other femme fatale missiles were flying in the direction of the cops. The war was on. The lilies of the valley had become carnivorous jungle plants.”)

Benkof: Protesters doused the bar’s facade and some of its interior with lighter fluid, which they ignited with matches. Had this unconscionable arson engulfed the building, we’d be commemorating the Stonewall Massacre.

Bianco: Someone set a fire with lighter fluid.

The claims about the lighter fluid appear to be from an account by Dick Leitch, a leader in Mattachine. However, the officers who were in the bar that night – dispute that version.

Neither of them saw anyone – drag queens or otherwise – trying to burn down Stonewall with cops inside.

Benkof: Even so, surely we’ve chosen the wrong memory through which to unify a diverse community that includes many segments – like lesbian Quakers and gay Republicans – unsympathetic to rioting as a political technique.

Bianco: Estimates suggest that, at the time of the riots, there were a few dozen gay organizations in the United States. Within a few years, the number had risen to more than 400.

There is no question that the Stonewall Riots were instrumental in changing the gay community. They became a rallying point around which the community gained a new perspective, not as weak victims begging for less-harsh treatment but as citizens demanding fair and equal treatment.

David Bianco knew this. So does David Benkof, however much he may wish it were not so.

Given the inconsistencies between the stories, I’d have to state that either David Bianco or David Benkof shows contempt for factual accuracy. I’m inclined to think both.

UPDATE:I completely forgot to include the following:

Identity Crisis
As I’ve said before, Benkof identifies in whatever manner he thinks will give his statements the most credibility. And, yet again, he provides an example in his letter to the editor:

I call on my fellow gays and lesbians to create holidays and events that honor them…

Benkof is quite clear that he isn’t gay when he wishes to trash gays on conservative websites. But if he wants to stake claim to the right to criticize from within he magically becomes part of his “fellow gays and lesbians”.

Talk about chutzpah (and I do mean that in a pejorative way).