In his LA Weekly piece today remembering the thirty-ninth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Patrick Range McDonald summarizes the events of the day (well, evening) and its significance: “an angry bunch of drag queens and effeminate gay men pushed back after New York City police officers raided the place, and subsequently started the modern gay rights movement.“**SEE UP- & UP-UPDATE BELOW**
These flamboyant gays pushed back because officers of the state attempted to prevent them from assembling peacefully and associating with others like them. In short, the state was limiting their freedom.
Those who rioted weren’t demanding equality or any kind of government privilege, but were rebelling as did the patriots standing up against the British nearly two centuries before them. They were standing up for their freedom. They wanted to be left alone to live their lives as they chose.
As we call those riots on their anniversary, let us consider how far we’ve come since then. We should be grateful for those drag queens who did what others less flamboyant refused to do. They really showed courage.
Back then, police frequently raided gay bars — and not just in New York. Back then, our fellows could not assemble as freely as could their straight counterparts nor could they live as openly as we do today. No states granted domestic partnership benefits. Nor did many corporations. No presidential candidate would meet with our representatives. In fact, there were only a handful of gay political groups at the time. Now, there are multitudes, appealing to the many diverse interests of our community.
Thirty-nine years ago, a bunch of drag queens and other flamboyant gays had had enough of the heavy hand of the state, with police preventing them from assembling freely. As we celebrate that anniversary, we should bear in mind that modern “gay rights'” movement began with individuals rioting for freedom.
As did the movements of many other once-oppressed groups throughout our nation’s history going back to our founding.
UPDATE: In 2002, Dale Carpenter challenged the Myth of a Transgender Stonewall.
UP-UPDATE: Looks like the Stonewall history I learned from my gay peers was wrong. It wasn’t a bunch drag queens, but a bunch of middle class white boys (with a few drag queens joining them). Writer Eric Marcus (whose book, Together Forever: Gay and Lesbian Marriage I much enjoyed) provides the details here. But, I did get the spirit of the riot right. As Marcus writes
So the streets weren’t filled with drag queens in sequins and heels. . . . But gay people â€” fluffy sweater boys, dykes, sissies, college students, boys in chinos and penny loafers â€” did in fact challenge police repression. They were finally pushed to the point where they’d had enough, and they fought back.