Monday, June 27, 2011

Stonewall Anniversary

[2011] - Forty-two years on (forty-two years tomorrow? - according to various news reports and historical accounts, the police raided the New York City West Village bar a little after midnight (1.20 in the morning?), so that technically makes the official starting date of the uprising (Saturday) June 28 1969).

We are indebted for a comprehensive account of this pivotal event to the historian David Carter.

Allen wasn’t around on those first two days but, famously, accompanied by actor Taylor Mead was there on the third day, as depicted in Lucien K Truscott IV’s controversial Village Voice account:
“Allen Ginsberg and Taylor Mead walked by to see what was happening and were filled in on the previous evening’s 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 percent, you know. It’s about time we did something to assert 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 a joy to see him on the street. He lent an extra umbrella of serenity to 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 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 that 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 underway.”

As David Carter has pointed out: "Ginsberg's characterization of the change that the Stonewall Uprising had brought about was so trenchant that when the early gay activist Allen Young interviewed (him) for the literary magazine, Gay Sunshine, the only question that (he) asked him about Stonewall was the circumstances behind Allen's statement." Allen's reply:
"I wasn't there at the riot. I heard about it, and I went down the next night to the Stonewall to show the colors. A crowd was there, and the place was open. So I said, the best thing I can do is go in; the worst that can happen is I'll calm the scene. They're not going to attack them while I'm there. I"ll just start a big "Om". I didn't relate to the violent part. The trashing part I thought was bitchy, unnecessary, hysterical. But, on the other hand, there was this image that everybody wanted to make that they could beat up the police, which apparently they managed to do. It was so funny as an image that it was hard to disapprove of , even though it involved a little violence."

The PBS documentary (for which David Carter was a consultant) Stonewall Uprising may be viewed in its entirety here. It’s essential viewing.
David also speaks in Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now 40th anniversary program.

Allen speaks (and even reads a couple of poems) on the DVD of 1984’s Before Stonewall: The Making of A Gay and Lesbian Community, (packaged along with 1999’s After Stonewall). Here's Allen's observation(s) from that film:
"All of a sudden at the height of the anti-war movement, at the height of the black liberation movement, after the triumph of liberation of the word [the end of print censorship], all of a sudden the cops were in there again trying to bust some guys..right in the center of Sheridan Square, the most bohemian traditional place in Greenwich Village!"
Irony - and irony and triumph forty-two years later.

***** 2016 update - And further triumph forty-seven years on! - President Barack Obama, this past Friday (June 24) designated Stonewall, a new national monument "to honor the broad LGBT equality movement"  - see CNN's report here - and NPR's report here 

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