The sixties in general were turbulent times across the United Sates. In the late sixties young Americans were protesting several different social movements. These movements included protest against our involvement in the Vietnam War, the African American Civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, and Betty Friedan was the face for women’s rights. All of these social movements came to a head in the late sixties. They were all widely covered in local and national media. Dinner tables across America hotly debated the merits of the almost daily race riots, war protests. Women were burning their bras, but the silent screams of the gay and lesbian social movement speaks volumes. Where was the media coverage, the supporters who were outraged about the suppression and very violent treatment this community suffered?
I was sixteen in the late sixties. This is such an innocent age. We still are under the influence of our parents, but social interactions in high school and our first jobs broadens our experience, and we start to question what our parents have taught us. I lived in the Back of the Yards neighborhood (Chicago). It was mostly immigrants of European decent, meaning it was white. However, my high School was integrated. This is where I met and developed friends outside my own race. I began to question the racial stereo types I was raised with. When I was young racial slang was the norm. The N word was used freely; dagos, spics, chinks, cracker and various others were common. It was not only whites who used this slang everyone bullied each other by calling each other hurtful names. Misunderstandings and downright hatred between ethnic groups created intense tension that often caused peaceful protests to turn in to violent riots.
When I was young I did not know anyone that was gay. I realize now that if I did they would not have been able to tell me. All these social movements and I was not aware of any “gay movement.” Where was the media coverage? I didn’t read any newspaper articles or watch protests on the nightly news. What I learned from family and community members is that homosexuals were the lowest group on the social scale. There were no debates at the dinner table about the right or wrong of being gay. The mental health community felt being gay was a mental illness and that gays chose to be gay and could revert back to the being heterosexual with therapy. Religion misquoted the Bible by stating God didn’t support homosexuals. Marrying outside of your race was unacceptable, but there were a few brave couples who dared to challenge society’s idea of normal. Coming out of the closet and declaring you were gay was too risky. Wanting rights as a couple would not have been accepted, period. Being homosexual was the one thing that would get a child thrown out of their home and disowned. Society sweat hate for homosexuals, fags, fairies, queers. I was only sixteen and remember how this subject confused me. Unfortunately, as a taboo subject I could not ask any questions and it would be many years before I would come to understand the issues that faced this community.
In 1969 it was common for gay bars to be raided and the customers to be carted off in a paddy wagon to jail. This was pure harassment. The bars hurt no one. The customers were quite and kept to themselves. These bars were the only “public” places where the gay community could socialize. On June 28th 1969 customers at the Stonewall Inn in New York city refused to peaceful y let the police cart them off to jail. They decided the only way they had any chance to gain some acceptance in society was through civil disobedience. The ensuing riot latest three days and started the gay rights movement.
As we approach the forty-first anniversary of the Stonewall protest there is a new independent film chronicling the struggle of the Gay and Lesbian communities that started fateful night.
As I said before, I remember the race riots, the Vietnam War and the woman’s liberation movement, but no Gay rights Movement. Today we can Google any subject and find the information we are looking. However, back in 1969 access to information was very much controlled by a few media outlets, those being TV, radio and newspapers. It is interesting how few reports were printed on the riots and there are few public pictures of the Stonewall Riot. Most pictures and accounts of the event are from the people that were there.
Stonewall Upraising attempts to bring the struggles of the gay community and its social movement into historical perspective. The film is based on David Carters “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution.” Without spoiling the film for those who have not seen it I will address the hardships director s Kate Davis and David Heilbroner had in getting this documentary filmed.
As I have stated the coverage of this social movement is limited. There are few pictures or film of the Stonewall protest that could be used in the documentary. To get a complete and seamless film the directors had to piece together other gay protest pictures and film from riots at that time. The film documents a number of personal accounts from reporters, police who led the raid, and members of the gay and lesbian communities who fought for their rights to be treated with basic human dignity. Stonewall Uprising eloquently conveys how the community developed a sense of sister and brotherhood that developed at this time. A year later the first Gay Pride march was held. This was the first time the gay community stepped out in public and freely celebrated who they were openly.
Like all great social movements the Stonewall Riots brought international attention to this vital struggle and to social change. When information on such an important social movement is limited we must make every attempt to record that history so it isn’t lost to future generations. This film is timely, poignant and a must see.