Amazingly bigoted 1969 NY Daily News story on the gay Stonewall Riots

I didn’t believe this was real.  Until I google around and found that PBS had also reprinted the article.  It’s a July 6, 1969 article about the famous Stonewall Riots in New York City that heralded the modern gay rights movement.  And the article is one of the most homophobic things I’ve ever read in my life.  Then again, it was 1969.  But still.

Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad
The New York Daily News, July 6, 1969
By JERRY LISKER

Stonewall is in the news this week after President Obama mentioned it in his inaugural address, alongside Selma (African-American civil rights) and Seneca Falls (women’s rights).  Wikipedia has a great write up on what the Stonewall riots were, and why they mattered:

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for gay and lesbian rights in the United States.

Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. The Stonewall Inn, at the time, was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known to be popular with the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, hustlers, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn, and attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.

After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities. Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark the Stonewall riots.

I’ve noticed the story changing every once in a while as to who exactly started the riot – was it drag queens or an angry lesbian? (if you look through PBS’ photo gallery, it’s clearly not just marginalized gays in those photos, despite what Wikipedia says) – but what everyone agrees on is that the riots launched the modern gay rights movement.  More from the NY Daily News at the time:

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn’t bothered to shave. A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt. New York City experienced its first homosexual riot. “We may have lost the battle, sweets, but the war is far from over,” lisped an unofficial lady-in-waiting from the court of the Queens….

According to reports, the Stonewall Inn, a two-story structure with a sand painted brick and opaque glass facade, was a mecca for the homosexual element in the village who wanted nothing but a private little place where they could congregate, drink, dance and do whatever little girls do when they get together.

I have to say, the nasty little story was well-written – it was funny as hell, actually, if you could put aside the fact that they were laughing at us, not with us:

The whole proceeding took on the aura of a homosexual Academy Awards Night. The Queens pranced out to the street blowing kisses and waving to the crowd. A beauty of a specimen named Stella wailed uncontrollably while being led to the sidewalk in front of the Stonewall by a cop. She later confessed that she didn’t protest the manhandling by the officer, it was just that her hair was in curlers and she was afraid her new beau might be in the crowd and spot her. She didn’t want him to see her this way, she wept.

Keep in mind that the world was famously bigoted in 1969.  It was only two years previous that the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Loving v. Virginia, striking down state bans on inter-racial marriage .  1967 was the same year that CBS’ Mike Wallace did a hideous documentary about gay people, that now lives in infamy.  Here’s a quote from Mike Wallace in the piece:

“The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life consists of a series of chance encounters in clubs and bars he inhabits.”

You can watch the entire 43 minute documentary here.  Below is a snippet:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-b19wXL0Jk]

So while it’s not surprising that the NY Daily News in 1969 wrote a hideously anti-gay article about the riots, it’s still fascinating to see the level of hatred gay people faced.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I watched the entire Mike Wallace video. It was actually quite fascinating. Things have changed in small increments. Most so small, one hardly notices them. When you compare now to then, there’s an enormous chasm.

  • wmforr

    “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
    –Harvey Milk

  • wmforr

    Someone had to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, and you did! Nobody thought a drag queen throwing a brick was a major historical event, but it was a shot that rang around the world.

    Purple prose perhaps, but true.

  • wmforr

    Times changed more rapidly than we wish to think. Twenty years ago, I attended an annual barbecue up-state as a guest of a gay NYC detective. There were maybe a hundred attendees, most of them officers and their significant others, all of them out on the police force. It was a joy to see. Just like those military personnel dancing at O’s Inaugural Ball.

  • wmforr

    As a witness to history, I hope you have made your memories of the event available in a permanent form. Is there anyone who is systematically collecting the eye-witness accounts?

    And now that I recognize the misplaced modifier in the above sentence, i will acknowledge it, but let it stet.

  • dula

    Is this Mr. Google at the Chelsea library?

  • davidinchelseama

    He died of brain cancer in 1996 at age 54.

  • FunMe

    I do, and I learned in the 1 year I lived in NYC. Not telling you the year. ;-)

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    For those of who lived the history, a deep and heartfelt gratitude to the lesbian communities, who were the first to nurse and care for their gay brothers with HIV/AIDS.

  • PeteWa

    wow, Dave Van Ronk is one of my heros, that’s a cool personal story to relate.

    thanks.

  • Butch1

    That was HIS story when in truth everyone KNOWS it didn’t happen that way. These homophobic thugs enjoy beating up on gays. They went to that bar on the anniversary of Stonewall just to let everyone know that they still discriminate against us and that we should never forget it.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    yep

  • Butch1

    Thank you for your story.

  • nicho

    Also, the day of the riots was the day after Judy Garland’s funeral. One commentator says:

    I think — and I don’t claim to be right, only to have an opinion — what happened is that earlier that the day, Friday, June 27th, 1969, a great many men from the Village flocked to Judy Garland’s funeral at a upper Eastside funeral parlor at Madison Ave and 81st. What impressed them — and in the early hours of the next day, mobilized them to resist the police raid on the Stonewall Inn — wasn’t Garland’s divahood (after all, it had been her downfall), but rather the number of other gay men they saw at the event. These were Garland’s fans. There were crowds of homosexuals recognizing each other on the street in front of the funeral parlor.

    Garland’s funeral turned out to be a sort of proto-gay pride event. And it demonstrated there
    was power in numbers — that was something “in the air” in those days as one anti-war mobilization after another demonstrated how many people were “anti-establishment.”

    http://tobyjohnson.com/stonewall.html

  • nicho

    Or as the mayor of our city once famously said — while chewing out the police chief for overtime — “For chrissake, that’s not an overtime murder — that’s an 8-5 murder.”

  • nicho

    And some newspapers were actually laid out just so you could do it.

  • nicho

    It’s not even arrogance. It’s that the youngsters don’t know the history and don’t know how they got where they are. That’s always dangerous for any group. I was in a cafe in Boston a few years ago. There were two young guys sitting at a table next to me. Two others came in and it was kisses all around — and then they sat together and started dishing on the Pride Parade that was coming up. “What the hell are all these old queens out partying for?” was the gist. I held my tongue, but wanted to tell them that when I was their age, had I seen some other gay person in a public setting like that, there would have been no kissing and no dishing. If we acknowledged each other’s presence at all, it would have been a very discrete semi-nod of the head, when no one else was looking, with nothing being spoken. Quite possibly, we wouldn’t even have known each other’s last names — they weren’t used in the bars. We had Joe the Cook, Henry the Barber, Big Tom, Skinny Tom, etc.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I like to think of the arc of justice as a rainbow.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    :)

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I thought that too. It seemed too clever to be straight. But, come to think of it, I could imagine someone like Karl Rove ghost writing it.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    You are so right. The ignorance and certainty of some younger gays who hate rant on this site point to the fact that the history is still not mainstreamed. Even the HIV/AIDS plague is fading. I recently read someone refer to ‘Angels In America’ as kitsch with a Sondheim musical score. The narratives must be told over and over by those of us who survived. Recently, an absolutest punk on this site demanded absolutely no tolerance for the ‘closet.’ No one would support closeted life as a healthy, but back in our day it was clearly a matter of life or death. Our generation’s coming out was an historical sea change.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Worse, was being preyed upon by cops. Gay murders in SF didn’t even merit an investigation.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    These accounts, history and stories are important to pay forward, particularly to the arrogant young punk crowd, who ride on our revolutionary efforts and think they invented coming out and civil rights.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Wonderful story

  • dula

    I see you as pioneers. You suffered more so I could suffer less. I don’t forget that.

  • nicho

    We didn’t see ourselves as pioneers — at least most of us didn’t. It was just the way things were and you dealt with it. In fact, a lot of the nasty things people said about you, you believed at some level. There was a lot of self-hatred, which is why many gays back in those days turned to alcohol — and worse. A lot of people couldn’t resolve their conflicted feelings. On one hand, they wanted to live their lives according to what they were, but they had been conditioned by society — their families, their churches, the media — to see themselves as failed human beings. Some people ignored the conflict, and others collapsed under the weight of it.

  • nicho

    I was on a subway the other day and almost everyone had their smartphones out, reading whatever.

  • Don Chandler

    It seemed written by someone that knew the scene but might have been closeted or “straight acting” or … yeah, even an “ordinary gay man” It’s nearly campy.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    What I found interesting in the NY Daily News story: No mention of the lesbians. It’s as if there’s no such thing as a female homosexual. And no ordinary gay men. Just the queens.

    Yet Stonewall was the first and most historic allying event when gays and lesbians joined to form a common activist movement.

    Also, we may be in a new, more tolerant era for LGBT rights overall, but police-raid atrocities such as the Rainbow Lounge raid in Texas still happen. The irony is it was on the 40th anniversary of the first Stonewall riots, just a few years ago. The Fort Worth police justification at the time? Their undercover officer supposedly was on the receiving end of an unwanted sexual advance. As if that alone is reason enough.

    We’ve a long way to go.

  • Sweetie

    I remember reading that back in 1996.

    One of the big things was to publish photos of gays in the papers so they’d be fired and shunned.

  • dula

    Anybody know if this Jerry Lisker is still alive? I wonder if he’d like to update his point of view publicly.

  • Don Chandler

    And then you think, what was mainstream like in Alan Turing’s day. Or back in the day when the 13 states were writing up anti-sodomy laws. The amazing thing about this world is places like Uganda serve as a glimpse for how bad it once was…like under the nazis. How homosexuals have historically been used as a pariah class to mobilize political support (evil). And religion always seems to be involved. Your friend must have been scared…and it wasn’t that long ago.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    That was my reaction. Sorta funny… then it stopped being funny and just became annoying.

  • dula

    Thank you for your pioneering efforts!

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s fascinating, John – have you written about this before, was just googling you…

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s the thing, if the story were written by a friend it would almost be funny. Almost.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yeah, I can’t do that either. I’ve tried. To think an entire generation will have no idea what we’re even talking about.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    “The police are sure of one thing. They haven’t heard the last from the Girls of Christopher Street.”

  • Mike_in_Houston

    I don’t guess the Daily News had a clue at the time how prophetic that last sentence would turn out to be.

  • nicho

    It may have been that the bar didn’t pay enough — although most were savvy enough to do so. But 1969 was a municipal election year too, and election years were always dangerous for the gay community. It was a chance for the administration to prove its “law and order” creds — and who better to beat up on than the gay community because (until Stonewall) they didn’t fight back. I never got trapped in that, although I had a friend who was in a bar when it was raided a month before the election and all the patrons dragged off on one pretext or another. My friend managed to slip into a broom closet and escape detection. He stayed in there until someone came to open the bar the next morning. I asked him what he did all night, and he said, “I said the rosary about 400 times.”

  • silas1898

    They still own one of the best headlines, ever, from 1975

    FORD TO CITY:

    DROP DEAD

    When NYC was going bankrupt.

  • nicho

    No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do that.

  • LindaL

    Yes, grossly bigoted. But you are forgetting something. Back then, even publicity of this sort served us better than complete silence. Our biggest single handicap at the time was the almost complete lack of visibility of gay people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-De-Salvio/1187769019 John De Salvio

    I was in the Stonewall when that all happened. Cops apparently were pissed that the Mafia hadn’t paid them enough. When they raided the bar, they smashed the jukebox, took the cash register, broke bottles, and got some resistance. People started scrambling toward the door. I managed to squeeze out the door where cops were beating up this guy who turned out to be folk singer Dave Van Ronk – who was straight. I later learned that he tried to get into the Five Oaks bar at 7th Avenue and Christopher, but was turned away. He probably thought the Stonewall was just another bar. He hadn’t even gotten inside when he was grabbed and shoved to the floor. As to all the drag queens, they usually occupied the smaller half of the bar – possibly about a half-dozen in all. As crowds gathered, a paddy wagon parked in front of the bar, and some of the drag queens were forced inside. The crowd got larger, and began shouting and swearing. More patrol cars showed up, pretty well jamming Christopher Street. Two guys managed to yank a parking meter out of the sidewalk. As the Tactical Patrol Force headed up Christopher from 6th Avenue in a V formation, I headed to 7th Avenue. I didn’t want to get caught in the melee. I went home. I had no idea that moment would become historic.

  • DonS

    . . . unless you were proficient at the famous “subway fold”, you’re exactly right.

  • nicho

    Because it was a tabloid, it was also easier to read on the subway and in a crowded diner than the Times or the Herald Tribune — hence its blue-collar appeal.

  • nicho

    It may have been bigoted from today’s perspective, but it was pretty mainstream for the times. This is the way people talked. If you didn’t live through it, you can’t understand. Those of us who went to gay bars pre-Stonewall were in constant danger of being arrested — for merely being there. God forbid you even so much as had your hand on someone else’s arm — you would be charged with sexual assault or lewd and lascivious behavior. Of course you pleaded guilty. If you went to trial, your name would be in the paper and you would lose your job — and quite possibly your apartment — and maybe your family.

  • DonS

    circa 1969

  • DonS

    John I guess you weren’t around New York, reading the Daily News. About all it was good for was wrapping fish guts, and a bit too small to do that well. Sports pages, maybe.

  • ARP

    OK, I have to admit I chuckled at bit at the headline,probably because I could hear some of my friends saying something like that about their own community.

    It was also well written with some very good lines. But, so bigoted that it became unfunny fast.

  • Doolin

    The arc of justice moves slowly, but…

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