The Queer History of the United States: Part 6
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Episode · 2 years ago

The Queer History of the United States: Part 6

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

The Mattachine Society, New York City bars run by the mafia, the Stonewall uprising, plus, where gay rights met civil rights, women’s rights, and radical politics. Be sure to follow Eric on IG! Your host is Levi Chambers, co-founder of Gayety. Follow the show and keep up with the conversation @Pride. Want more great shows from Straw Hut Media? Check out or website at strawhutmedia.com. Your producers are Levi Chambers, Maggie Boles, Ryan Tillotson and Edited by Sebastian Alcala Have an interesting LGBTQ+ story to share? We might feature U! Email us at lgbtq@strawhutmedia.com. *This podcast is not affiliated with Pride Media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

Straw media. We've come along way. Pried listeners. Six weeks ago we started on this journey to better understand the queer history of the United States. Six weeks ago we were going about business as usual, heading into work, having dinner with friends, waiting in normal sized lines at the grocery store. Now things are very different. We began by looking at the many genders in the indigenous nations of pre colonial America and their persecution by Western explorers. We looked at the first settlers in the original thirteen colonies, the founding fathers, Homo eroticism in the White House, drag shows in Harlem and the beginning of the term homosexual. Today is the final part of our six week series on the Queer History of the United States, finely by chambers, and this is pride. I hope that throughout this series you've come to know some of the extraordinary queer people that have lived in the US throughout history. Some brave ones were fighting for gay rights in their own ways long before anyone noticed. I hope you've seen how LGBTQ pus rights intersect with issues of class and race. Today we're talking about a pivotal moment in American gay history, the stonewall uprising of one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine. STONEWALL did not start at all. It changed everything by now. You probably know his voice. Yes, it's our history guide, Dr Eric Servini. To understand the significance of stonewall to gay rights in history. And now we have to start really in one thousand nine hundred and fifty six. In nineteen fifty six, queer people had no legal protections in the US. We were about ten years into the Cold War and engaged in a very tense space race with the Soviet Union. We hadn't yet landed on the moon and the US government was still very afraid of communist infiltration. Meanwhile, a man named franked camony had just earned his PhD and astronomy from Harvard. The following year he was hired by the government to work for the United States Army Map Service. But a few years earlier he had had a run in with the police. He goes to an astronomy conference and San Francisco and enters a restroom in downtown San Francisco and there are two police officers hiding in the ceiling. And that really shows the context of what gays or anyone who was considered sexually deviat at the time how to put up with in the S and s police. Things like that we're pretty commonplace at...

...the time, especially in San Francisco. Cameny was charged with lude conduct and loitering and sentenced to six months probation. Frank Camony had been working for the US Army Map Service for only five months when he was summoned by the civil service. They told him they had evidence of him being a homosexual and asked him for comment. cameny refused, saying it wasn't any concern of the government, and so of course he's immediately purged, just like countless other men and women before him, and unlike most people in that position. Most people would just kind of quietly say, all right, I don't have this job, I'm going to just quietly walk away and get another job. Unlike them, Frank Cam Andy sued the government and he became this is starting in the late s. He becomes the first openly gay man to take a gay rights case to the Supreme Court and essentially his Supreme Court document was a manifesto for gay pride. The Supreme Court denied his case and that's when he decided he had to do something. In later interviews, Kemeny has said that if he hadn't been fired from his job, he probably wouldn't have become an activist. It was his experience of the government's failure to protect him that radicalized him, and so he starts an organization called the Madishan Society of Washington. The name Madachchane was a reference to a certain type of MEDIEA evil French performer. They were men who satirized and criticized the ruling monarchs and because they wore masks they were able to get away with it. The first Madichian Society was founded in Los Angeles in one thousand nine hundred and fifty by Harry Hey, and it was essentially the first major gay rights organization. The first group didn't only demand a quality for gay people, it also criticized the US government and capitalism. You have a whole bunch of communist talking about, you know, revolution and how, just like workers, homosexuals are and oppressed minority. So can many starts his own chapter of the Madischian Society and Washington DC and starts trying to find other men who had been fired from government jobs for being gay. And keep in mind if you're fired for being gay in either a private company or in the Federal Government, then you that record is going to follow you for the rest of your life. So if you want to get another job, then if your perspective employer calls the government and says hey, why did they leave their job, they'd say, oh, he's a homo or a pervert. Don't hire them. During this time, because he lost his job and is essentially being blacklisted, cow many is living in poverty and he's not the only one. So he starts recruiting people to join him and organize the fight for gay liberation. Meanwhile, the FBI is trying to infiltrate this group. There's a nine hundred page FBI file on the Madischian Society of Washington. All of this is happening during the s. There were protests against the war in Vietnam,...

...a second wave of feminism and, of course, the civil rights movement. In one thousand nine hundred and sixty three, two hundred and fifty thousand people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC for the march on Washington, where Martin, Luther King Jr gave his famous I have a dream speech. That march, one of the most significant moments in American history, was organized by a game man. His name is Byrd Rustin, and even though he was openly gay earlier in his life and even though the entire civil rights movement knew that he was gay, he was so indispensable and had such logistical prowess that they kept him on, even when, you know, southern Democrats found out that he was gay and exposed him on the Senate floor. In the march went on. Eric says that after attending that historic March, gay groups throughout the country started talking for the first time about protesting, because that was something that had never happened before. A group of homosexuals had never taken to the streets for their rights. But, inspired by the Black Freedom Movement and by Rustin's March, you start seeing people in New York, especially Randy wicker, up in New York saying now is the time to fight. On April Seventeen, one thousand nine hundred and sixty five, frank camony was one of seven men in suits and three women in dresses who stood on the sidewalk demanding equal rights for lgbtq people in the first ever gay rights demonstration outside the White House. And he convinces other organizations like the daughters of Belid us, a lesbian organization, which at first was reluctant, right because they say, you know, you have this idea that if we want acceptance as a minority, we need to fit in, we need to prove that were, you know, not harmful, we're not these like screaming queens or drag queens out on the street, and that marching would be they thought marching would hurt their cause, but camony says no, this is the only way that we are going to get people's attention. Then on July Fourth, one thousand nine hundred and sixty five, they held the first ever Reminder Day picket. About Forty Men and women marched with signs to protest for gay rights. But these pickets, radical as they were at the time, we're pretty tame by today's standards. The march is actually had strict rules and a strict dress code. Men War suits and women were dresses. Beards were discouraged. Signs had to be approved in advanced and lettered neatly. Picketers were not supposed to talk, smoke or leave. Still, the mere act of participating in a demonstration like the Reminder Day picket was still a very daring act. This march took place every year until one thousand nineteen sixty nine. Now that brings us to New York. A little bit of context. The New York State Liquor Authority, which is the one that grants licenses and regulates bars, bands dis orderly establishments.

But that makes you ask what is a disorderly establishment? Well, for years, if your bars served gay men, then you were considered to be a disorderly establishment were susceptible to being rated and shut down. So in one thousand nine hundred and sixty six, the Madichine Society of New York City, a separate chapter from Camoni's DC. Madichine society organizes not a sit in, which is a form of protest you've probably heard about from this era, but instead they organize a sip in. So they go from bar to bar set declaring I am a homosexual, will you serve me? And one of the bars called Julius's. It's still open still in the village. You can still go in and see exactly where it happened. One of them said, we will not serve you because your homosexuals and we don't want to lose our license. The madichine society of New York filed suit against Julius's and force the State Liquor Authority to make a statement saying that serving homosexual patrons in a bar does not constitute a disorderly establishment. And so at last they had in writing a confirmation that gays had the right to be served in bars. So why, then, did the police raid the Stone Wall in just a few years later? What happened? We'll get to that in a minute, after a quick break. Welcome back. Before the break, we talked about Frank Camony and the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. We talked about inspiration from the civil rights movement. One subtle note camony took from the civil rights movement was the phrase gay is good. Just like the Civil Rights Montra black is beautiful, gay is good was a phrase meant to counteract the negative messages constantly coming from the government and society at large. Because the reason people aren't picketing, the reason people aren't suing the federal government, why they're still putting up with these mafia owned gay bars is because deep down they agree with the rest of society that to be gay was to be a moral or was to be bad. Frank camony coined gay is good in nineteen sixty eight. The next year stonewall. So one misconception about stonewall is people think, oh stonewall, what a great celebrated place within the homophile movement. So that's what they called the early gay rights movement. People were increasingly turning against the stone wall because it was run by the Mafia. In fact, by the mid N S, the geneese crime family controlled the majority of gay bars and clubs in Greenwich Village. In one thousand nine hundred sixty six, one of the Genoese's, Tony Laria, known as fat Tony, bought the stonewall in. He reopened the...

...club as a gay bar and bribe the police to leave him alone. And so by January one thousand nine hundred and sixty seven the stone wall was opened. It was technically a club, a private club, so that it didn't technically fall under the regulations of the State Liquor Authority. So you would, if you wanted to go to the stone wall, you would show up, there would be a a register at the front and you would have to write your name. Everyone just put down fike names and that gained you entrance into this private club. And as soon as it opens you start seeing gaze within the movement saying you know how terrible it is. And so one activist, Craig Rodwell, who had participated in in camony's picquts, he wrote in one of his newsletters. He said the Stone Wall on Christopher Street and Greenwich Village is one of the larger and more financially lucrative of the Mafia's gay bars and Manhattan. Rodwell reported that bartenders didn't have running water behind the bar, so they often serve drinks and dirty glasses, and he blamed the stone wall for an outbreak of hepatitis in one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine. The stonewall had no rear exit, making the front door the only emergency exit. And to top it off, the alcohol served at the bar was watered down and overpriced. The owners and employees blackmailed and extorted wealthier patrons who weren't out. Craig Rodwell made all this public in his newsletter and for the first time you see him calling on gays two wield gay power, and in this sense it was economic power, saying we should be binding together to create our own gay spaces rather than patronizing these mafia owned bars. In one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine, the queer community was getting fed up with the stonewall in then, in the last three weeks of June that year, the NYPD had conducted five different raids against clubs just like the stonewall. Why were they doing it now? Well, it was the middle of a mayoral election campaign and historically harassment of homosexuals always spiked whenever there was a local campaign, because it looked good right the city could boost its arrest numbers. And one of the officers who was involved in the raid, in the stonewall raid, later admitted he said when they went down and rated bars like the stone wall, he said everyone behaved. It was like we're going down to grab the FAGS. And quote the night of June twenty seven, at Twenty am, a group of officers entered the Stone Wall in the music was shut off and bright white lights were turned on and, as usual, the officers started demanding identification. And one thing that people really overlook that I think is so crucial to the story...

...of that night is that the police women who attended at as soon as they started looking for identification, started performing a second duty. They took anyone who was trans, so all the Trans Women, they would take them to the bathroom where the police officers examined their genitalia to determine whether or not they had been assigned male or female. And there was a law that said if you were not wearing three items of clothing of your assigned sex, then you were arrested. And while this was happening, while there was essentially sexual assault happening, the gay men in the bar are standing in a single file line in, one by one, showing their ideas and leaving. Outside the bar patrons gathered and watch the raid take place. Then the police started dragging out the gender nonconforming patrons and putting them into police fans. But wait, before we go any further, let's talk about that. Let's talk about the gender nonconforming people, the sex workers, the street people living in New York that kick this movement into overdrive. My name is Michelle, as Sir Brian, I'm a scholar living in New York City. Last year Michelle helped organize love and resistance stonewall fifty with the New York Public Library and exhibition. In series of programs to educate people about the stonewall riots. Michelle reminded us that alongside the GAY party scene that included Stonewall, there was a culture of police brutality towards people who were visibly queer, people who wouldn't have been able to participate in those reminder day pickets at Working Class Trans Women of color and other people who were working in sex work, often homeless, often struggling with roal did diction, and we're really not able to sort of path in any sort of normal, straight, homophobic life. And so these people, because they sent a lot of time on the street, because they were visibly queer, because they were poor and often people of color and subjects to a lot of police rastment, had a lot less to loose than some of their privilege counterparts. And we're a lot more willing than able to fight the police when the time king. Michelle says that in the five years leading up to stonewall there were seven hundred and fifty riots across the United States, usually led by poor black teamagers set up with police brutality. So while gay men like Frank cammony organized peaceful marches dressed in suits and dresses, and even more marginalized group of Queer people were beginning to fight back hard. And these, these gender outlaws of some...

...people called them, played a really intricral grew for the much broader queer community. Like it was their presence that really helped cohere a visible, excessive, accessible queer light for everyone else. Right their presence and neighborhood, their presence in a bar, their presence on that stroll meant that everyone knew that that was a queer area and that's where people gather and meet each other and build community together. It also meant that these people subject to a lot of harassment and a lot of brutality. That's why, on the night of June twenty seven, something snapped. Here's Eric. After the crowd gathers outside, they start bringing out the trans patrons and putting them in the police fans and you start to see the officers, you know, shoving them around. One of them hits, hits an officer with her purse. He hits back with his club, and then there's a moment. There's a lot of disagreement about when exactly it became a riot, but what most eyewitness accounts agree on is that the officers then brought out a patron whom they had identified as a woman, at least in their eyes, and this patron was wearing watts hair, male clothes and was in handcuffs. The the village voice, said that this patron was wearing this, as their terms and their pronouns, fancy go to bar, drag for a butsch dykes a pretty offensive language, and they said she and their words, put up a struggle. And so this patron starts kicking and cursing, screaming and fighting back, and someone else in the audience, one witness, recalled it being sounding like a female voice, shouted why don't you guys do something? And then the village voice, the newspaper that actually had a reporter, they're reported saying it was at this moment that the scene became explosive. Limp wrists were forgotten, beer cans and bottles were heaved at the windows in a rain of coins descended on the cops, and so you start hearing cries of police brutality, pigs faggot cops and the riot begins and so the officers retreat backwards. They bolt the door of the bar. The mob manages to somehow uproot a parking meter and use it as a battering Ram and officer is hit by a flying object in the door swings open. The police grab at one man, they beat him mercilessly. What a lot of people, all who don't realize is it was very, very close to being...

...a massacre, not just a riot but a massacre. There was a reporter who's actually inside the bar with the police officers and he reported saying an arm poured light or fluid into the room. Then through a match, there was a whoosh of flames and the officers prepared to shoot in a massacre seemed imminent. So there could have been a lot of people dead because these officers were terrified. And that's when the fire truck showed up. They put out the fire and then turned the hoses on the crowd and for several hours, the Trans Women, the drag Queens in the street, youth, these are sex workers who were working the peers and on forty two street began fighting and taunting the riot police. And you know, they're singing songs like we are that at stone wall girls, they're skitting in chorus lines, they're kicking their heels and meanwhile the police officers are swinging their nightsticks. Witnesses saw people covered in blood getting dragged into police cars. The riots continued the next day and activist that you may have heard of, Marsha p Johnson, was there. She miraculously climbed a lamp post in high heels and a very tight fitting dress and somehow dropped a bag full of bricks onto a police car below, shattering its windshield. The following year, marsh and Cynthia Rivera Founded Star Street Trans Veasti action revolutionaries to advocate and care for young transgender people. But that night, in one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine, the uprising continued. What I think is so interesting is the madishing society of New York, which is different from Frank Hamony's organization, puts up a sign on the stone wall saying we homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the village. And so you start to see, all right, these people physically fighting back in mass several days in a row for the first time, nothing on the scale. There had certainly been acts of resistance in riots, but nothing on this scale. And the poet Allen Ginsberg, in one of my favorite quotes, he actually goes into the stone wall on Sunday night, dances there and he comes out and he tells a reporter. You know, the guys there were so beautiful. He said. They've lost that wounded look the fags all had ten years ago. And because of some of that offensive language from the village of Voice, they actually come back on Wednesday and the riots continued. The riots went on for five nights. Here's Michelle again and that uprising was sort of has symbolically become the centerpiece of a nationally...

...and how Queer people understand the explosion of gay rights organizing, a particularly gay liberation organizing. That took place in late nineteen sixty nine and in nineteen nineteen seventy one. Michelle says that within two months of stonewall there were dozens of Gay Liberation Front organizations in the United States and then eventually the world, but the first one was in New York. This was moment. The lasted for about three years. Of Very militant gay and queer organizing that was wholly of participated in the revolutionary upsurge across many different movements and communities that were happening at the time. The Gay Liberation Front often mobilized to show up for Black Panther rallies, so the young Lord to Revolutionary Anti Capitalist Organizations that were organized in the New York a lot. They did a lot of organized in in the sense of the Panther Twenty One, who are twenty one members of the Black Panthers who are incarcerated in New York City of political prisoners. Michelle says, the Gay Liberation Front really saw itself as part of a global movement to overthrow capitalism and imperialism. It's not an act that their name was the direct reference to the National Liberation Front of Vietnam, which was the communist army that the United States was fighting in Vietnam. Even though these gay rights groups were aligned with the anti war, anti capitalism and civil rights movements, they weren't always welcomed. Homophobia was everywhere, but thanks to the cofounder of the Black Panther Party, Huep Newton, solidarity grew in one thousand nine hundred and seventy. He spoke out and the Gay Liberation Front was invited by Hueyton, then of the Black Panthers, to join the People's constitutional convention that took place in Philadelphia, where they represented the interests of gay right to a broader multiissue revolutionary last Newton's pamphlet was titled a Letter From Huey to the revolutionary brothers and sisters about the Women's liberation and gay liberation movements. Part of it read, whatever your personal opinions and your insecurities about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among homosexuals and women, and I speak of homosexuals and women as oppressed groups. We should try to unite with them in a revolutionary fashion. I mean there are a lot of elements about the role of people of colors, world trends, women, the world free people that a lot of really kantastic activists and organizers have lifted up over the last two years as being a crucial part of the like Stais Stone Wall, and I'm very excited to say the number of people that have written very positively about silver there and Marcia Beach Arston, Miss Major, and they deserve all the veneration we can possibly offer them. Today, the...

...stonewall in is a designated National Monument. They hold drag shows and have park rangers. But it's not all great. The neighborhood is now too expensive for any normal person to live, and just down the street Queer Youth of color are still regularly harassed by the police. And so the bar is the perfectly nice place encourage everyonely go visit, chat with chat with the Park Ranger about its history. And meanwhile you only have to go a few blocks to see police harassing queer use of color who wore who are, in many ways the direct inheritor of the leading courses that repellion. In November one thousand nine hundred and sixty nine, the eastern regional conference of homophile organizations, that's the eastern regional conference of homophile organizations, met and decided that instead of that annual reminder where everyone just walked in a circle silently wearing their suits and dresses, they proposed emotions saying resolved that the annual reminder, in order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged, that our fundamental human rights be moved in time and location. We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June UN in New York City to commemorate the One nineteen sixty nine spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street, and this demonstration be called Christopher Street Liberation Day. And one of the last minted amendments made by a member of that radical caucus said no age or dress regulation shall be made for the demonstration. And so, a few months later, on June twenty eight, one thousand nine hundred and seventy, to Christopher Street Liberation Day, March began. Between Five and Tenzero people marched in commemoration of the riots, which Eric says was a signed that at last this movement that had existed for years, for decades, was opening the doors to everyone. Finally, people recognize that the those who fought back at Stone Wall were not the people wearing suits and marching in circles outside of the White House. It was the people most despised in American society, those with the least to lose, where the ones who actually fought back and inspired everyone. No, matter what you looked like or how you dressed to actually march. So this June two thousand and twenty, I'm actually really saying, my book the Deviance War, the homeless sexual versus the United...

States of America, just in time for the fifty anniversary of this very first pride March, and it tells the full story of Frank Hamony in the Madachian Society of Washington, including what happened after stonewall and how he influenced and was influenced by a lot of other groups, including the Black Freedom Movement, the Lesbian Activism, by Trans Resistance like Sylvia or Rivera and her organization, and the emergence of some of these other groups like the Gay Activists Alliance, which different forms of which continue up until today. So I think everyone will be really fascinated, hopefully, by the secret history of Gay Rights in America. Can you so? Your book is more than five hundred pages. Can you tell listeners exactly like what they can expect to learn and experience from reading it? Because I mean for the last what six weeks, we've done this special on the queer history of the you of the United States. What, what can they learn from your your book. So I don't want to scare anyone. It that a hundred and twenty of those pages are and notes, so you don't have to read those unless you're insane. But so it ends up being closer to around three hundred fifty pages, and I mean it was super impressed with five hundred. It's like Harry Potta, goblet of fire, anvile right. Yes, it's definitely an enjoyable I try to make it enjoyable to read because I think so much of his story is confined and academia and incredible scholars have, you know, been working on this story for a long time, but we don't yet have a narrative history that tells us the story of Frank Hamony and the years leading up to stonewall and how gay pride in its current form, this idea that we need to as a political strategy. We need to come out and declare that homosexuality is morally good in a public setting. That exists because of Frank Hamity and because of a lot of the other characters in the book, including those who fought its stone wall, who was able to take his argument, which was essentially a legal thriller. You know, he was fighting against the Pentagon. There were FBI informants trying to ruin him and ruin anyone who is gay in Washington DC, and he was making this argument the entire time, saying that homosexuality was morally good and it lasts. Because of stonewall. People finally adopted it, expanded it and made it accessible to everyone. Pride is a production of Straw hut media. If you...

...like the show, leave us a rating and a review on Apple, podcast, spotify or wherever you're tuning in from. Share us with your friends, subscribe and follow us on Instagram, facebook and twitter at pride. You can follow me at Le B Chambers, and you can find Dr Eric Servinni at Ric CR v I and I. Pride is produced by me, be by chambers, Maggie Bowls and Ryan Tillotson, edited by Sebastian alcohola special thanks to Michelle Esther O'Brien. She will be back in a couple of weeks to talk more about her work creating a public online archive for interviews with Trans New Yorkers. It's called The New York City Trans Oral History Project and you can find it very easily on Google. Please stay safe, stay healthy, stay home and listen to podcasts.

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