Rich Wandel Interview
Excerpt from an interview with Rich Wandel concerning Stonewall remembrances and responses:
RW: Well they were usually referred to as riots as opposed to rebellion. Either way is fine by me that’s not an attempt to tell you or me how it should be referred to. They were referred to as riots. The images I have, probably at the time, came at the time was we would refer to the TPF, the Tactical Patrol Force and their baby blue helmets. I’m sure very early on I heard the “we are the Stonewall girls” story. But we were concentrating on what we were doing now.
CG: Yeah, the action. Um, well in that regard maybe you can tell me about this idea um, some have suggested that Stonewall is or was a particularly New York phenomenon. That it becoming this galvanizing event was really something that only, maybe, could have happened in New York.
RW: Well I can talk about why it happened here. I don’t know if I would say only necessarily. That is a really wild speculation in either direction
CG: Right, well it’s just a good way to introduce the concept.
RW: Alright, of course as you undoubtedly know it was not the first gay riot so the question indeed does arise, well what is it different about this? Why did this become the event rather than just you know, okay, and certainly the early press coverage to the extent that is was assumed it would be, a flash in the pan event.
Well you had already had some organizing been done both nationally in terms of Mattachine starting in the 1950s and the Daughters of Bilitis. You had already had picket lines in Philadelphia the annual picket line.
CG: The Annual Reminder.
RW: Yes, at Independence Hall. You already had, with Mattachine, you had already had a picket line at Whitehall Street, the draft place. The issue being not that gays should be allowed in the military but that they should not be given dishonorable discharges. Which is perhaps a subtle but important difference.
And you had already had the sip in or whatever they were calling it at Julius’ uh which Mattachine, Dick Leitsch and others did -fighting back against the liquor authority and control of gay bars. In addition to that you had -- by 1969 you had a consciousness of rebellion if you will, of having had enough. Whether you’re talking about, I mean somebody of my generation --and I was at the time of Stonewall, what? I would be 23 or something like that. Well, what was I raised on? Well I was raised on images of the civil rights movement in the south I was raised on very importantly I think, the police riot in the 1968 Chicago convention. Uh, so there was that consciousness. There were at least the beginnings if not more of the anti Viet Nam, of the anti war movement and in New York itself you had people, you had an existing organization in Mattachine and Daughters of Bilitis. You had people like Craig Rodwell and Martha Shelley who were (especially Martha) probably kinda on the left to begin with-- who could, recognized this as an event that should be taken advantage of and continued on. And they did. So the reason why it didn’t evaporate in my opinion is indeed because of people like Martha Shelly, Michael Brown, Craig Rodwell who uh, I’m gonna say the next day, that’s probably literally true but its at least figuratively true, had flyers on the street about not letting this end about taking this forward and then very quickly founding the GLF here in NY.