Gay Pride Gala
talk was given at the Adelante
Gay Pride Gala in El Paso, Texas, on June 24, 2006
I am delighted
to join ADELANTE
in commemorating a thrilling event in the evolution of
gay pride--the Stonewall Riot. That occurred at the Stonewall
Inn in New York, June 26, 1969. On a hot night, a couple
of butch lesbians and a couple of drag queens refused
to be pushed around by cops during what was a routine
raid of gay bars. Rioting began and extended for three
pride and courage were not born at Stonewall, although
even the few history books that attempt to document our
long but largely unrecorded struggles place the birthplace
of defiance there and then. In doing so, they divide our
resistance into two steadfast periods, "pre-Stonewall"
and "post-Stonewall," the former judged as repressive,
the latter extolled as liberated.
on that single event distorts our history and renders
as lesser other acts of equal--and even greater--courage,
when circumstances of the time of occurrence are considered.
back in 1958, at Cooper's Donuts on Main Street, a favorite
after-hours hangout in Los Angeles' downtown, two cops
ostensibly checking I.D., a routine harassment, arbitrarily
picked up two hustlers, two queens, and a young man just
cruising and led them out. As the cops packed the back
of the squad car, one of the men objected, shouting that
the car was illegally crowded. While the two cops switched
around to force him in, the others scattered out of the
car. From the donut shop, everyone poured out. The police
faced a barrage of coffee cups, spoons, trash. They fled
into their car, called backups, and soon the street was
bustling with disobedience. Gay people danced about the
1967, two years before the Stonewall riot, in the Black
Cat Bar in Los Angeles, at the stroke of New Year, plainclothesmen
who had infiltrated the bar throughout the night started
humiliating and beating the celebrants there. Subsequently
200 gay men and women gathered in the Silver Lake district
to protest the raid before squadrons of armed police,
stunned by the sudden resistance.
cataclysmic events and others occurring before Stonewall,
several notable in San Francisco and other cities, were
rendered invisible because, at the time, the very word
homosexuality was disallowed in all media; its mention
even in films was forbidden. As we celebrate with justified
pride the advances we have made, it is not inappropriate
to remind how those advances came about.
history of gay oppression is long; its recorded history
sadly brief. It is not difficult to encounter young homosexuals
who have no idea about our tradition of endurance, the
battles that were fought. Recalled, that turbulent history
may inspire our strength to cope with new, constantly
centuries we survived religious inquisitions. We survived
illegal prosecutions, and let's not forget the outrage
against Oscar Wilde that not only destroyed the man but
cut off what might have been great works of literary art.
We survived concentration camps--although it's seldom
noted that we were put there and that when liberation
occurred, men who wore the identifying pink triangle were
rearrested by the allies--and still survived. We survived
commitment into insane asylums, shock therapy. We've survived
being exposed to sentences of life-imprisonment for being
found in a consensual homosexual acts. We've survived
threats of electrical-shock aversion therapy, of having
to register for life as a "sex offenders."
is for those reasons that some of us did not feel grateful
when, only three years ago, the Supreme Court, by only
one vote--a vote now replaced by someone who would have
voted otherwise--finally struck down a law that made consensual
sex in private between members of the same sex a criminal
act punishable by years in prison. For veterans of not-too-distant
wars for equal rights, that decision stirred memories
of outrages overcome long before Stonewall.
the 50s, the 60s, even into the edge of the 70's people
risked arrest by being in a gay bar. At any moment a bar
would be flooded with light from a squad car. A bullhorn
ordered all "queers" to march out in a single
line, ostensibly to be checked for I.D. At random, men
were insulted, mauled, arrested.
men sitting in a car in areas known to be cruising turf
exposed themselves to being ordered out, separated, and
grilled with questions about each other, to determine
whether or not they had just met; the latter was enough
to claim an intent to engage in a lewd act. That occurred
so often that gay men developed a hurried technique to
thwart the accusation. On detecting the presence of the
police, men together would exchange names and backgrounds
to indicate they had not just met.
of lingering in gay turfs might lead to arrests for loitering,
being held in jail, without charges, for as long as 48
hours, on the whim of arresting officers.
was rampant; vice cops in provocative attire courted or
accepted an invitation for sex at someone's home, and,
once there, arrested. Plain clothes cops sat in cars outside
gay gathering places in order to trail men leaving together.
They waited, then pushed their way into a private home.
Men thus caught having consensual sex faced prison sentences
of up to 5 years. It was such an arrest that brought up
the case that caused the Supreme Court to strike down
such laws in 2003, years after countless similar raids
had been upheld by courts.
the 70's it was illegal for members of the same sex to
dance together. (Heterosexual women were exempted.) A
famous "private" club in Topanga Canyon developed
a system of lights to signal a hostile presence. Lights
would blink, and gay men would shift partners, dancing
wily maneuver was one employed by a pianist in a gay bar.
When, in another routine act of harassment, a member of
the shore patrol and a member of the police department,
invaded to question patrons, the sailor in white, the
cop in black, the pianist would lunge into the strains
of the wedding march.
political groups, like the Mattachine Society, met in
secret, blinds drawn; their newsletters were confiscated
by the postoffice, although they had no erotic content;
the same fate awaited the inception of "One"
magazine, equally non-erotic.
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Original material by John Rechy appears
frequently on these pages.