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This page includes links to resources and articles concerning the Stonewall Rebellion. These articles and opinions may be controversial yet are worth considering objectively.  I believe the important part of Stonewall's legacy is not "who" and "what" but why. Experiences are often shaped according to individual bias and perspective, however the personal truths that they reveal offer valuable insight.


Remembering Stonewall

This oral history radio segment originally aired in 1989 and was produced by Sound Portraits. Dave Isay of StoryCorps fame spoke with Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, who led the raid; to Sylvia Rivera, one of the drag queens who is overlooked by historians today; to Bruce Merrow and Geanne Harwood, a gay couple who have been together for 60 years; Jheri Faire, an 80-year-old lesbian; Randy Wicker, the first openly gay person to appear on television and radio; Joan Nestle, founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives; and yippie leader Jim Fouratt, who helped found the Gay Liberation Front on the third night of the Stonewall Riots. Hearing these perspectives from the 20th anniversary of Stonewall it is easy to see how collective memory of the event had evolved up to that point, impacted by the success of the gay liberation movement to bring gay rights into mainstream society as well as the failure of the movement to include the most marginalized LGBT groups.


 

 

Personal Truth: Defining LGBT History

-Chris Gioia, March 2017

It is apparent, even from my interviews with just a handful of individuals and with the testimony from various texts, that perspectives on the Stonewall Riots of 1969 are diverse, complex and contentious.  I began this project seeking to collect sources of information that can help reconstruct the event, but also gain insight into the significance and symbolic nature of Stonewall in the formation of a larger gay rights agenda and to a degree, the development of LGBT identities. To begin I surveyed texts on the subject and discovered several contemporary writers who have discussed the history of Stonewall in varying degrees of detail. There is an innate desire for historians to investigate and perhaps demystify events like Stonewall.  I had some hope myself before conducting interviews that I could contribute to a clearer reconstruction of the events surrounding Stonewall, as well as define its signficance.  I wanted to see if the interviews I recorded coincided with other accounts I had read.  But I quickly decided to overlook any discrepancies I identified with other written accounts when listening to my subjects. I consciously decided I would not challenge their recollections outright, but also found I felt no reason to question their memories in retrospect.

Instead I developed a growing appreciation for the ways in which the personal truth I was hearing coincided with shared imagination surrounding the Stonewall event.  As Alessandro Portelli has written, “oral history tells us less about events than their meaning.” The Stonewall narrative fits very well into Portelli’s three main functions of memory as history.  The symbolic aspect of the Stonewall incident is that it comes to represent all other gay rebellions as well as the shared gay experience of persecution, harassment, defiance and individuality.  The psychological aspect places focus on the response (during the initial uprising) by the most marginalized members of the community, highlighting the injustice even more so than if a privileged group had been the target of the raid.  Highlighting the militant grass roots protest response also gives the gay rights movement enhanced credibility within the larger social activism of the period.  The formal aspect is the reclassification of Stonewall as the “first” rebellion, which rearranges the chronology and endows the event with commemorative significance. [1]

Stonewall can be seen then as a prime example of “mediated memory” as described by Garde-Hansen in Media and Memory. All media are the tools of memory making; photography, journalism, radio and television are all vessels of experiences and knowledge that contribute to collective memory.[2] If it were not for the gay activists who, conceived of the ad-hoc media campaign, picked up by tabloid, newspaper and even radio and television[3] to publicize the Stonewall incident, its place in the continuum of LGBT history probably would not have become so iconic.  If it were not for the media coverage and the ensuing controversies, the commemorative potential would not have been realized. The individual interpretations of activists and authors also provide the means to subvert the factors that contributed to Stonewall’s “success” as a catalyst and create a narrative that resonates beyond simple facts and a linear sequence of events. This schematic narrative is set in motion by the grass roots organizing that develops almost immediately after the first night of the rebellion. A schematic narrative represents the theme of stories emanating from a particular culture, in this case it is the protest movement culture of the late sixties.  The narrative that develops is tied to notions of identity that envelop the specific narrative (individual components that are arranged and interpreted schematically).[4]   Craig Rodwell, Jim Fouratt, Martha Shelley as well as Sylvia Rivera can be seen as shaping this narrative of Stonewall Rebellion, which was by no means the first violent protest against police harassment, instilling it with the significance of their interpretation within the context of broader social movements.  When cultural icon and gay elder statesman Allen Ginsburg states of Stonewall patrons in the aftermath of the riots, “they've lost that wounded look that fags all had ten years ago” the capacity of the rebellion to be remembered increases dramatically due to his notoriety.[5]

The ability of activists to frame the specific narrative of the spontaneous and haphazard resistance to the initial police raid as symptomatic of anger deep within the LGBT community ensured that what might otherwise have been perceived as a rowdy, noisy, angry disruption would be remembered as a bold and noble insurrection.  That is not to say that the community did not harbor resentment toward oppression; it is not to say that patrons at the Stonewall Inn that night were not angry.  It is to say that the uprising was not the product of a linear progression toward a goal or the result of consistent and focused, organized actions that intended to cause unrest.  Stonewall occurred at the culmination of a period of widespread social unrest and of overwhelming desire for change.  In this case, it can be argued that LGBT activists of the time rather spontaneously, creatively and successfully capitalized on the predisposition of the community to notice, listen, participate and often cheer when rebellion and protest erupted in the streets.  The Stonewall incident and the resulting narrative are a “riot” in the best sense of that word: a large, colorful, varied display of the human spirit of rebellion that coalesced around a community in a very particular place and moment in time.

While the scope and content of this site is academic in nature and the intent is to create an archival collection, I hope visitors will enjoy reading the transcripts of the interviews conducted for this project as well as enjoy the historic images and documents collected here. Perhaps there is something you wish to contribute, share and discuss?  Please do not hesitate to join the dialogue by submitting a contributor form for review.

 


[1] Alessandro Portelli, The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History, State University of New York Press; October 1, 1990, pg. 26.

[2] Joanne Garde-Hansen, Media and Memory. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), 27. Web.

[3] Martin Duberman, Stonewall. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993), 198.

[4] Knut Lundby, Digital Storytelling, Mediatized Stories: Self-Representations in New Media (Peter Lang. 2008), 30. Web.

[5] Martin Duberman, Andrew Kopkind. 1992. "The Night they Raided Stonewall." Grand Street 11 (3): 120.


 

Links to Digital Resources:

Remembering Stonewall: Oral History

Happy Birthday Marsha: Upcoming Film about trans icon Marsha P. Johnson

Jim Fouratt on Stonewall

Village Voice Stonewall Reporting 1969

Truscott 40th Anniversary Opinion

Sargeant 40th Anniversary Opinion

Sherry Wolf "Birth of Gay Power"

Outhistory.org: Stonewall Police Reports

Outhistory.org: Come Out! Archive

Articles that address the Roland Emmerich Stonewall film:

Miss Majors interview including discussion of  Stonewall

Miss Majors on the Emmerich Stonewall film

Mark Segal on the Stonewall Film

Gay Activists & David Carter on Stonewall Film

Martin Duberman and others discuss Stonewall film