In the Wake of Stonewall: Gay Power Hits Back


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July 31, 1969, Vol. XIV, No. 42

Gay Power Hits Back
by Jonathan Black

They marched under a lavender banner, 500 strong, from Washington Square to the Stonewall Inn. The young man in pin-striped caramel hip-huggers and an apricot halter suddenly boomed out, “Give me a G! Give me an A! Give me a Y! Give me a P!…an R! What does it spell?” And from the purple column echoed the resounding cry: “Gay Power!” Then in repeating choruses: “Gay, gay power to the gay, gay people, Gay, gay power to the gay, gay people.”

A man’s head peered out from a Sunday afternoon tourist bus. “What are they saying, Henry?” came the rasp from behind a Kodak Zoom 8. “Play power,” muttered Henry. “It’s a demonstration.”

It started in Washington Square with the distribution of lavender ribbons and arm bands. “Brothers and sisters,” began Martha Shelley from the Daughters of Bilitis, standing on the fountain’s rim, “welcome to this city’s first gay-power vigil. We’re tired of being harassed and persecuted. If a straight couple can hold hands in Washington Square, why can’t we?” Eruptions of applause, a delirium of screams and giggles. “Sock it to ’em! Sock it to ’em!” and “Long live the queen!”

“We’re tired of straight people who are hung up on sex,” she continued. “Tired of flashlights and peeping-tom vigilantes. Tired of marriage laws that punish you for lifting your head off the pillow. Socrates was a homosexual. Michelangelo was a homosexual. Walt Whitman and Richard the Lion-Hearted were homosexuals.”

Marty Robinson from the Mattachine Society, one of the demonstration’s co-sponsors, took over: “Gay power is here. Gay power is no laugh. There are one million homosexuals in New York City. If we wanted to, we could boycott Bloomingdale’s, and that store would be closed in two weeks!” Cries of “Close it down!” and “Tell ’em sweetie!”

“We will not permit another reign of terror,” urged Robinson. “Let me tell you, homosexuals, we’ve got to get organized. We’ve got to stand up. This is our chance!”

When things were beginning to get a big slack, Sister Marlene was introduced. “I’m sister Marlene and I’m running for mayor on the Salvation Party,” said the buxom beauty. “I’m not homogenized, I’m still heterosexual. But when I’m elected mayor there’s going to be a Universal Erogenous Zone, and everyone’s invited.” She eventually concluded, “The government is a pimp. Bless you all. Everyone here is now married.”

The march to Sheridan Square began then, an orderly four-by-four column, with cadenced clapping and gay-power cheers. No one could quite believe it. Even 4th Street’s resident gypsies unearthed an Instamatic from the bowels of their trailer and snapped away.

As the traffic up Sixth Avenue ground to a halt, the marchers gathered confidence. The chants and the cheers rang out more defiantly. Maybe it wasn’t just a joke. Maybe there really was a gay power. In the park outside the Stonewall Inn, scene of the bust two weeks before, the rally re-convened. Appeals for money, organization, and the start of a newspaper from Robinson. A suggested march on the Sixth Precinct. And, finally, a curiously moving “We Shall Overcome,” punctuated by an occasional pulsing falsetto, somewhere in the crowd.

Gay power had surfaced. Sick and tired of police harassment, of prehistoric sodomy laws, of “park protection” in Queens (Queens!), and of vicious busts in the underground haunts where public decency had driven them, homosexuals struck back. A mild protest, to be sure, but apparently only the beginning.

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