Ever wanted to know more about the Stonewall Riots? Join us this week as we talk about the Riots and what happened after that. 50 years ago they started a movement that we continue still in 2019.
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Intro: You’re listening to Transcaster Radio, a podcast about trans life and all that goes along with it. You can listen to the show anywhere you enjoy podcasts and we’d love for you to subscribe, rate, and give a review. It helps us reach more people and we greatly appreciate it. Now here’s your host, Kayden Taylor.
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Kayden: Hey Transcasters! Welcome to this week’s episode of Transcaster Radio. I’m your host, Kayden Taylor!
This week, we’re going to talk about the Stonewall riots that happened 50 years ago in 1969. To start out, I’m going to do a little bit of background on the topic of homosexuality in the 20th century, since obviously the Stonewall Riots are all about homosexuality and the LGBTQ community.
So Barry Adams, who is a historian, according to him, after World War II, many people in the United States wanted to what they call, restore the pre-war social order and hold off the forces of change. People didn’t want to change, but when you think about it, not a lot of people like change, it’s why society has such a hard time changing things. Why it takes 25 years to change one thing, at least that’s what it feels like sometimes. So, it shows you that even back then, change was not something that people wanted to do.
I do think that as society grows, and as we prosper, and we grow as a society and a community, that I do think that people will be okay with change. I think it has definitely gotten better since 1969, just in the LGBTQ community in general.
So, throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the FBI and police departments kept list of known homosexuals. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t. When I started researching the Stonewall riots, they kept lists of their favorite establishment and their friends too, which was quite interesting. So even if you weren’t homosexual or part of the LGBTQ community, they kept track of you, if you were friends with one or at least one that they felt was a homosexual.
Another interesting thing that I found out is that the US Post office back then kept track of addresses where homosexual material was mailed to. I know that if you get a lot of things nowadays, you can get them in, like a black bag or unmarked envelope, or things like that. A lot of like sex stores and online sex stores will send it to you like that, and it’s interesting that they actually kept track of where that material was mailed to. I’m curious as to what kind of information they keep track of now. You know, they pay attention to our phone calls and everything else that it would be interesting to see what they kept track of going to our mailboxes. Even though I do think that slowly, but surely, US post mail is becoming obsolete and may over time. At least on general letters, not necessarily boxes of things or mailed things like that. If you buy something offline, I don’t mean in that essence, but as far as mailing a letter, I don’t know very many people, other than maybe my grandparents, who send letters instead of just sending an email nowadays.
As this was all going on in the local police and FBI, state and local governments also followed suit but shutting down bars that were either categorized or catering to gay men and lesbians. Customers were actually arrested and exposed in the newspapers if they were arrested in a bar. So even if you were there with friends and they felt that you identified as a gay or lesbian person, they would put your information in the newspaper for all to see.
As we know today, I just actually posted something on social media today that talked about how in so many of our states still, they can legally fire you for being a homosexual. So it’s interesting that even if you were not gay back they, but you were in that crowd, they would arrest you and expose you in the newspapers, which if your boss found out, which most likely did, you would be fired.
At the same time, cities performed sweeps, they swept neighborhoods, parks, bars, beaches, all gay people. It’s kind of that same idea of what black people go through and today’s society that, you know, if they see a black male, they’re automatically thinking that the black males are up to no good and they go out, and search for those black males instead of white males. I mean stats show that black males get arrested more often than anybody else. So, it’s no different than how it was back then with gays and lesbians.
Something that I found very interesting during my search of the Stonewall Riots and the background history of homosexuality, was that they outlawed wearing opposite gender clothes. Like you could not wear opposite gender clothes, and if women who were butch lesbian wore men clothes, they had to have at least three items that were female oriented. So, bra, panties, shirt, they all had to be wearing at least three items that were considered women’s attire. Back then, they also deemed jeans, that we all wear on a regular basis, maybe not in the middle of the damn summer in Florida when it is 110 degrees outside. But, we all wear on a regular basis, that it would be crazy to me to think that just because you were waring jeans, and you were considered a female, you could very well get arrested because they outlawed the fact of wearing opposite gender clothes. To the point where universities, colleges, back then, expelled instructors who were suspected of being homosexual.
In 1952, so this was well before the riots, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality in the DSM, which I talked about before, which is the diagnostic and statistical manual, as a mental health disorder. I talked about this a couple of weeks ago regarding how, in I think it was 1992, and they took it out. It might have been earlier than that, but I do not remember the exact year. But, if you go back a couple episodes, you will hear me talk about that.
So, in 1962, a large scale study was done to justify the disorder as a pathological hidden fear of the opposite sex caused by traumatic parent-child relationship. So, they felt that homosexuality was due to something from a parent-child relationship, a traumatic experience. So, something like being molested by the opposite gender parent or the same gender parent, that, I mean why? How can they say that would be a reason for somebody to be homosexual? It is beyond my understanding, but at that time, that is how they categorized it.
However, a psychologist named Evelyn Hooker, in 1956 performed a study that compared the happiness and well-adjusted nature of self-identified homosexual men with heterosexual men and found to be no difference. So, it only took the homosexual and heterosexual men, and compare the two. But, just taking that small portion of society, it showed that there was no difference in their happiness and well-adjusted nature. Of course, I think gay men were just as happy, but going through tremendous repression and axed from society. I mean, during the 1950s and 1960s, society was just different, and the LGBTQ community was, I mean, not that we are not a marginalized community now. We certainly still are, but more so back then. I mean, just like what I have talked about.
So, it was interesting though. Her study stunned the medical community. They did not think that her study was right. They felt that homosexual men would be depressed, and have anxiety, and self-hatred, and want to kill themselves, and they expect something totally different. I mean, mind you, this is 1956. I wasn’t even an idea to my parents for another 29 years.
So, she ended up becoming a hero in the gay community. It is interesting that they talk about how she was a hero in 1956, just from this simple study comparing happiness and well-adjusted nature of homosexual men to heterosexual men. It does not seem like a huge deal to me. But, to gay men back in 1950, this was ginormous! This was a huge deal to them. Gay men, lesbians and trans people, their goal was to make it that they were no different and the same as heterosexual people. No different. It wasn’t about trying, and people saw them as, as different just as they do now. They see the LGBTQ community as different, a different community. They wanted to do nothing but fight for the fact that they were no different. I think if they could have done it any harder, they worked harder to do it, I think they would have.
So, that is a little bit of background on homosexuality in the 20th century. I mean, I could talk to you about homosexuality in the 20th century for hours, but we do not have hours today. So, if you want to learn more, I will post some links to information on my website and look for links to information in social media posts. So, if you want to check that out, go to the website at Transcasterradion.com and it will be under the episode with all the episode information and show notes.
So, the Stonewall Inn, which is where all this happened, when I first started learning about the Stonewall riots and I heard about the Stonewall Inn. I thought it was a hotel, you know, the Stonewall Inn, you think of the Holiday Inn. I did not realize that it was a bar, but it is still there. It is located at 51 and 53 Christopher Street in New York, New York. At that time, during the riots, it was owned by the Genovese crime family. It was owned by the mob.
So, in 1966, three members of that mafia family invested $3,500. Which I think $3,500, I am like God, that’s not very much money. But back then, $3,500 was a lot of money. So, they invested $3,500 into Stonewall, and turned it into a gay bar. It had been a restaurant and nightclub for straight people prior to that. The main attraction to the Stonewall and to gay people, was the ability to dance because back then, you could not show displays of affection of same-sex couples in public. So, it was a way for them to dance and show affection, because you certainly could not do that in a straight bar, or a straight club, or out in the streets or anything like that. So this gave them the ability to dance and not feel like they were going to get arrested, or yelled at in obscene language to them about being gay and dancing with each other and grinding up on each other, just like straight people do.
So, then it was interesting because this bar had no emergency exit. It did not have, they brought in, it was like a makeshift bar. So even though they invested a lot of money at that time into the bar, they did not actually, it was not like your actual bar. They did not have a bar license. So much so that they got raided on a fairly regular basis, that they kept alcohol in cars down the street, and if the raid came early enough and clear out early enough, they would bring more alcohol back and restart the party over again, which I found interesting. I mean, these people were packed in there like sardines. I mean, it was not a huge bar.
So, let us talk a little bit about the police raid itself. So, the actual date that it happened was June 28th, 1969. It was a Saturday and the raid started at 1:20 AM, so this was the beginning of the riots. Four plain clothed policemen, two patrol offices, a detective and a deputy inspector arrived at the Stonewall Inn, coming in saying, “Police! We are taking the place!” I mean, some of these people had never been through a raid before, so they had no idea what was going on. Some of them, you know, what happened when raids came, is in the front of the building, where the windows were, they put plywood up in order to keep the cops away. When they, when a raid would come or they knew a raid was coming, they would turn the music off and turn the regular lights on. So when the regular lights came on, people who had been through a raid before had known what was going on, but some of these people had never been through a raid before, so they had no idea what as actually happening when the cops came in and yelled that.
When the Stonewall employees were asked, they do not recall being tipped off that night. Which was unlike what has normally occurred. They were normally tipped off about raids, not necessarily the time that the raid was going to happen, but they were normally tipped off on when a raid was going to occur. So, if it were going to occur on June 28th, they would be told, hey, June 28th and typically give a timeframe of when it was going to happen. But that night, employees from the Stonewall Inn stated that they did not receive a tip, which was not normal.
So, there is a historian, David Carter, he stated that the mafia owners of Stonewall and the managers were actually blackmailing wealthier customers, particularly those who worked in the financial district. This was their way of bringing the police, blackmailing, or getting money, giving money to the police to keep them out of their establishment.
They, the mafia at the time, they say made more money from extortion than they were from actual liquor sales at the time. Which mind you, I told you it was not your typical bar. They had alcohol down the street in cars. Carter actually believes that when the police were unable to receive kickbacks, like I told you, the mafia was giving them money from the blackmail money that they were getting, they decided to actually take over Stonewall and close permanently. That is the main reason for the raid that night, it’s because the police, the dirty cops were not getting the money that they were told that they were going to get. So, therefore, they were going to look for retribution
So, the raid because at 1:20 AM, but two undercover cops were actually in the bar at that time, been there earlier in the evening. There is nothing that I show, that shows when they entered, or how long that they were there. But the purpose of it was to get visual evidence, to figure out, you know, that there were gay people inside and that they were dancing and doing things that were illegal. While these undercovers cops were in there, the other police officers waited outside for the go ahead. Once they had a visual proof of what was going on inside, and once the cops got inside, they called for backup from the sixth precinct. The music was turned off, the main lights were turned on, and at that time, there were about 205 people in the bar that night.
So, like I said, they are packed in there like sardines, and like I told you, these people were confused. They did not know what was going on. Some people ran towards the doors and windows, but the police that were there had all accesses barred there. There were, there was only one way in and out, which was the front door at that time. So, these people were trying to run and the last thing they wanted was to get arrested.
A patron at that time, one of the customers, Michael Fader, he remembers things happening fast and to the point where people really had no idea what was going on. He stated, “That all of a sudden there were police there and we were told to all get in lines and to have our ID ready to be let out of the bar.” That’s actually something that was common back then. That when they had raids, you were required to have an ID and ready to go for when you were called through your lineup.
So, this was as usual, they wanted everybody to have their ID and would be let out of the bar accordingly. Unfortunately, to the polices dismayed, the raid did not go as expected that night.
The standard procedure of lining people up and checking their IDs was not going well. They also had female police officers take people who were dressed as female into the bathroom to verify their gender. So, I always wonder what the hell did they do? Pull their underwear down, and you know checky checky? I do not know, because what other way would the justify checking their gender other than looking at their genitals, which we all know society is so caught up on what’s in our britches. Unfortunately, trans people at that time were refusing to go in the bathroom with officers. People were refusing to get in line, men and women who were in line refused to give their IDs to officers. The police ended up detaining all the patrons that night, all of the customers that night for a period of time.
I found an article on one of the trans women, her name was Maria Rettler, and she stated the following, “My biggest fear was that I would get arrested. My second biggest fear was that my picture would be in a newspaper or on a TV reporting that I was in my mother’s dress.” I don’t know how old she was at the time, but imagine she’s probably in her early twenties and in her mother’s dress, doesn’t know she’s trans or that she’s a cross-dresser, or that she’s a drag queen, however she identifies at the time, you know, it was hard because she was scared to death. But at the time she was angry for all the problems that the police had been putting them through for so long.
There was a sense of discomfort that kind of spread, not just with customers and the patrons that night, but the police officers. Which surprised officers who were caught off guard and it spurred some police officers into assaulting the lesbians in the bar by feeling them up while frisking them that night.
Slowly the people from the Stonewall Inn were being released, but people did not go home as usual. Normally during these raids, people would just go home if they were released, or they ended up going to jail. But people within minutes were sticking around and it was climbing, hundred, 250 people had congregated outside Stonewall Inn. Mind you, there were not that many police at that time. They had five or six ones that raided, and then they had gotten a group of people from the sixth precinct. But, other people around the Stonewall Inn noticed what was going on and they started to join in the crowd.
When the first patrol wagon, they called them back then, which would be considered a van now, the inspector recalls how the crowd had grown to at least ten times the number of people who were arrested. The second police wagon go to the end, the mafia members and regular employees got put into the van first. An office at this time, shoved a transvestite, who responded by hitting the officer on the head with her purse. This is kind of when the violence began.
People were tired of it and began with pennies and beer bottles being thrown at the wagons. As rumors spread that people were still inside being beaten, this is when the anger and the violence started to get worse. It really got bad when a scuffle broke out. When a woman from the bar was being escorted to the wagon, one of the officers took out his baton and hit her upside the head as she was being thrown into the wagon. Bystanders heard her saying, why don’t you guys do something?
That is when the crowd became a mob and all hell broke loose. This is when the violence started. This is when these people had had enough of the abuse of the violence, of the torment. They were tired of it.
The police tried to restrain some of the crowd, knocking a few people down here and there, which excited the bystanders even more than they already were. Why would you push down people, who you already know are upset and becoming violent, and you do not have that barrier that many people to back up you. The crowd tried to turn over the van, the wagon that was there and slash some of the tires. This commotion that was going on attracted more people. Someone yelled to the crowd that the reason for the raid was because the cops were not paid off, which started to get the crowd even more excited.
So, the crowd started throwing coins at the cops again, yelling pigs, you faggot cops. The police were outnumbered. There were between 500 to 600 people. Like I told you, there were only a handful of people at the time. They were trying to grab people. They actually grabbed Dave Van Ronk, which is one of Bob Dylan’s mentors, and this is when I come back to the fact that Dave Van Ronk was not a gay man. He was involved in the riots because he felt police violence from anti-war demonstrations that he was in before. So he got involved in it, on Christopher Street that night, but he wasn’t actually in the Stonewall Inn, but he got arrested for being a part of the riot. He stated, “Actually later on, as far as I was concerned, anybody who’d stand against the cops was all right with me, and that’s why I stayed in. Every time you turned around, the cops were pulling some outrage or another.”
The Dave Van Ronk was actually one of the 13 people arrested that evening. When they caught Van Ronk they trapped themselves and a few other detainees inside the inn for their own safety. This was the cops and the people they had handcuffed or were able to restrain from the mob.
I did read that multiple people stated that the riot did not start from pre-existing event, because I know that, or an organization and that’s been asked and stated before on whether or not that’s actually occurred, but was simply a spontaneous act of resilience and resistance. I think people at that time were God damn tired of the horse shit that they were going through. The cops were pushing them through manure every time that they could get their hands on them.
So the mobs started throwing garbage cans, garbage, bottles, rocks, and bricks. They were being hurled at the windows, breaking the windows. Even a parking meter, which I don’t know how heavy they were at that time, and honestly I don’t know how heavy they are now, but I would think that they would be hard as hell to get out of the ground. But then again, I don’t know how they were in the ground at that time either. But, they used that actually as a battering ram against the door at the Stonewall Inn.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, which has always been stated that they’re the ones who started the riot. They will actually tell you otherwise, at least in interviews I have seen. Marsha P. Johnson, rest in peace, she died in 1992, but Sylvia Rivera remember stating, “You’ve been treating us like shit all these years. Now it’s our turn. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”
The mob of people lit garbage on fire and stuck it through the broken windows in the Stonewall Inn. While the police tried to find a fire hose to put the fire out and disperse the crowd, unfortunately there was no water pressure to the hose, so therefore, it was ineffective.
The first night of the riots lasted about 45 minutes before the tactical patrol force showed up, which obviously is like the S.W.A.T team. Mind you, the riot started around 1:20 AM. By 4:00 AM the streets were nearly cleared, with 13 people being arrested. Some of the crowd being hospitalized and four police officers were injured.
I did not know this originally, but the riots ended up being more than the one night on June 28th. The next night, the riots continued. They surrounded Christopher Street. Participants of the riot remember it being a little more frantic or even more violent than the first night, and many of the same people returned, the people that were there the night before.
Like I said, there were only 13 people arrested according to what I found, and there were a thousand people there, so a lot of those same people came back. Looking to shot to the cops and to anybody who would listen, that they deserve equal rights and that LGBT rights are human rights. Many of the same people, it was interesting though. What was astounding was the amount of homosexual affection that was happening in public.
The next night, unlike before the riots, like I said, I mean these people went to the Stonewall Inn because they were given the ability to dance, and grind, and have public affection to their lover or partner or girlfriend or boyfriend, or non-binary, it really didn’t matter. They did not care anymore. They wanted to be who they were, and they were going to show it in the middle of the street if they had to.
Thousands of people gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn to the point where the crowd spilled into nearby streets. Of course, if you know anything about the Stonewall riots, Marsha P. Johnson was the trans lady who climbed up a light pole and dropped a brick on a cop car, shattering the windshield.
More than a hundred police were present from the fourth, fifth, sixth, and ninth precincts until 2:00 AM when the tactical force team showed up again. The street battle between the cops and the crowd’s went on until around 4:00 AM again before the streets started to get dispersed.
It is interesting because not everyone in the gay community at that time felt like the riots were a positive development. If you talked to some of the older LGBT community, they felt that all their hard work of trying to say that the homosexuals and LGBTQ community were no different than the straight people, were hindered by these riots. It felt like these people felt like the world was seeing the LGBTQ community as a bunch of violent misfits that did not belong. That is what these other LGBT community members had worked so hard for the world to see, that they were no different and so that they felt like these riots were not good.
I think at that time, the people that were probably in their sixties or seventies in 1969, had fought so long through such repression and hate, that they probably did think that and it’s a crime to think that here there’s a group of people standing up for what they believe in and for their rights. Part of that community looked at them saying no, this is not the right thing to do. That is hard to sit and think about, I’m sure when people were going through this in 1969.
So, the aftermath within six months of the riots, activist started a citywide newspaper called Gay. They felt that it was necessary because at the time, most liberal newspaper called The Village Voice, which is talked about in the movie Rent, refused to print the word gay. They refused to print the word gay at the time. So, activists started their own citywide, New York city paper.
Then on June 28th, 1970, marked Christopher Street Liberation Day, it was the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. At that time, they did gay pride marches in Los Angeles and Chicago. These were in all essence the reality where the first gay pride marchers, although these pride marches started with the Stonewall Riot, it is just our marches. The first march was a riot, not a march. By 1972, other cities got involved, like: Atlanta, Buffalo, New York, Detroit, Washing D.C., Miami, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia.
Within two years of the riots, there were gay rights groups in every major city in America, as well as Canada, Australia, and Western Europe, which was a huge deal back then. We do not think so much of it now, but back in 1969, that was 50 years ago. Today’s LGBT pride events are held annually in June throughout the world. The main purpose is to mark the Stonewall Riots and to see where we came from.
The Stonewall National Monument was stablished at the site in 2016 by President Obama. Like I said, this year marks 50 years since the Stonewall Riots, 50 years, 1969 to 2019.
If you were curious, the Stonewall Inn is still seen in New York, New York, on Christopher Street. It has changed hands and it has been different things from different restaurants, but in 2007, the building got new owners and was renovated. It is still currently a bar and club. It is to anybody and everybody who wants to come. So, if you are ever in New York, New York, you should definitely go and check out the Stonewall Inn, even if you don’t drink, go in and have a root beer.
Anyways, that is all I have got for you today, stay turned for next week. Thank you for listening and as always, do not forget, love life, live authentically and as always, rise up.
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