The events of early morning, June 28th1969 at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, brought one of the single most important events in the struggle for LGBT equality. In the community, it is regarded as an “origin story” containing elements of mystery and myth that combine with established facts to construct the collective memory or “narrative” of the event. In a time when "alternative facts" are promulgated so easily, it is also too easy to survey the historical record in retrospect and announce: "They got it wrong." But I would like to open a dialogue about this. The significance of a collective feeling that constructs a memory and in turn, a historical narrative, is not only whether it is factually accurate, but the meaning it provides. The stories that are told elaborate on or omit details of the past in order to satisfy broader issues influencing society; in this case, the tumultuous counter-culture of the 1960’s.
What do conflicting timelines, skewed chronology, varying witness accounts and outright contradictory claims mean for the LGBT community? First and foremost, that diversity is a hallmark of the LGBT or "gay" world. Unlike some cultural, ethnic and social groups, the LGBT umbrella encompasses members of every community across the globe. Therefore, it is not surprising that different perspectives and interpretations of events exist and persist. Second, I think it is important to recognize that there is a typical process of assimilating a story into cultural and collective memory. Enough people must identify and feel a connection to it in order for it to take hold. Knowledge from statements, written texts and even images on their own, typically are not enough. When browsing through the exhibits, documents and interviews in this resource I hope visitors will experience how these elements combine to form an "origin story" such as the Stonewall Riots. As this singular event has become the worldwide catalyst for a movement to secure equal rights for a segment of humanity that for too long has had to settle for second-class citizenry, once the basic struggle for equality is acknowledged, it's easy to recognize the significance of Stonewall; the riot, the rebellion, and the activism that followed, and why and how it is instilled in the collective memory and identity of LGBT individuals.
All written content (analysis, descriptions and discussion) as well as the URL stonewallhistory.us copyright Christopher Gioia, 2016
Rich Wandel, LGBT Community Center National History Archive
Tal Nadan, The Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts, The New York Public Library
Dr. Anastasia Pratt, SUNY Empire State College
Dr. Mark Soderstrom, SUNY Empire State College
Timothy Johnson, Taminent Library & Robert F. Wagner Archives, Bobst Library , New York University