June 28, 1994
By Martin Duberman
We didn’t even get to cover our own riot. Which is no surprise. In a heterosexual universe, it had long been assumed that gay men and lesbians were not reliable witnesses of their lives (let alone anything else). Our experience had to be explained to us, the “experts” of the day insisted, for we lacked the “needed objectivity,” and our “pathology” further compromised our ability to see straight (as it were). “Surely no one would recommend that operations for cancer be performed by the afflicted patients themselves.”
And so even the countercultural Village Voice — itself at the journalistic center of ’60s protest — saw nothing out of the ordinary in allowing two heterosexual reporters to cover the outbreak of gay rioting at a Greenwich Village bar, the Stonewall Inn. The lead sentence in Lucian Truscott IV’s piece referred to the sudden “specter” of gay power having “erected its brazen head and spat out a fairy tale the likes of which the area has never seen.” In his second sentence, he referred to “forces of faggotry.”
To be fair, this was 1969. Not too many gay people were using kinder, more accurate words about themselves (certainly I wasn’t: my idea of liberation in those years was to put myself in the hands of a therapist promising to free me from my “afflicted” orientation). Besides, Truscott also commented on the riots creating prospects for gays to assert “presence, possibility and pride” — a potential not widely seen at the time, though many now claim, retrospectively, to having immediately understood the significance of the riots.
Truscott also alluded to the way the riots had been covered in the Daily News as having been “anything but kind to the gay cause” — and few other straight reporters of the day would have considered the degree of kindness in an article about despised homosexuals as being a relevant gauge of the article’s journalistic worth (unlike, say, its ability to sell newspapers). Jerry Lisker, the author of the Daily News article, may not have been responsible for its headline, HOMO NEST RAIDED, QUEEN BEES ARE STINGING MAD, but he most assuredly was for the adjectival mockery (“lisping,” “prancing,” etc.) of its prose, and it’s smug, derisive characterizations of “honeys turned Madwomen of Chaillot.”
The New York Times was above so coarse an assault. It had its own dismissive strategy, one more appropriate to its high-toned readership: avoid covering news about gays at all, or do so briefly and antiseptically in a back-page throwaway story. For its short article about the first night of the riots, the Times chose the headline, 4 POLICEMEN HURT IN VILLAGE RAID — as if the score of injured gay people was of little or no import. The Times did mention that the police had “confiscated cases of liquor from the bar,” but said not a word about the way they had wantonly smashed jukeboxes, mirrors, and cigarette machines, ripped out phones, plugged up toilets — and pocketed all the money from the cash register and safe.
The Times article reduced the rage of thousands to what it characterized as “a rampage” by “hundreds of young men.” The paper further implied that the arrest of one of the rioters had resulted from his “having thrown a heavy object at a patrolman.” In fact, police had grabbed the man in question at random out of the crowd, had dragged him by the hair back into the Stonewall Inn where they had retreated from the mob, and had proceeded to give him a severe beating. When it looked as if he was about to pass out, he had been handcuffed and Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, the ranking office, had snapped, “All right, we book him for assault.”
And so the limited, distorted coverage went… The Voice’s second article, by Howard Smith, did mention police vandalism and generally was free of Truscott’s occasional homophobia — though it did include a description of the rioters “prancing high and jubilant in the street.” The New York Post — then a liberal paper — did do a follow-up piece headlined THE GAY ANGER BEHIND THE RIOTS, which responsibly discussed resentments felt over Mafia control of the Stonewall (and all other gay bars), over the huge profits that never went back into the lesbian and gay community, and the huge payoffs that went to the police. And both RAT and the East Village Other — organs of the counterculture — also carried sympathetic accounts.
But these were marginal voices in a coverage that overall reflected all too accurately the dominant bias of the culture.
Its perfect creature, Time magazine, summarized the majoritarian view when, some four months after the riots and in response to the publicity they had generated, it published a lengthy “analysis” of gay life. The article characterized “the homosexual subculture [as]… without question, shallow and unstable,” and warned its possibly wavering readership yet again that “homosexuality is a serious and sometimes crippling maladjustment.”
There we have the authentic voice of mainstream America, circa 1969. And it is a voice once more sounding loudly through the land as the legions of the religious right wing methodically prepare for battle against the “gay lifestyle” in a slew of forthcoming fall elections. It is being widely predicted that the right wing will win those elections in a landslide. If so, we might want to recall again those memorable summer nights in 1969 when we were pushed too far — and bellowed back in rage, THIS FAR AND NO FUTHER!
By Allen Ginsberg
Think of the historic importance of coming out of the closet! Stonewall’s cry echoed round the world! Spiritual liberation meant gay liberation also, the liberation of individual veracity against hypocrisies of church, and state, and age-old social sadism. A revelation of actuality in midst of mental hallucination and emotional repression. Truth against “lies age-old, age-thick.”
What was the fix to begin with? Legendary gay bars owned by organized crime paid off the New York police, and if they didn’t they were closed down. Something went wrong with the payoffs at Stonewall Inn. So the customary repression of gay social life was motiv’d by hypercritical greed and sadism. As the sign says: GAY PROHIBITION CORRUPT$ COP$ AND FEED$ MAFIA
Who rebelled against this police fraud? We see hairy-chested guys with leather caps like cops, curbstone pixies on roller-skates applauding the parade, white-clad pure butch lesbians, poseurs mugging in front of Stonewall’s graffiti’d façade, ”Gay Cruise” billboards above Christopher Street’s classic cigar-store corner, Rock Hudson elegies & T-shirt sociologies on Keith Haring’s shop wall, a gay vet tombstone, Carmen Miranda banana hat clones, transvestite motorcyclists, brown skins dancing, AIDS die-ins, Peter Orlovsky & myself musing in bed 1959, arm in arm old lovers bald, Baldwin & marble Lincoln, Auden’s wrinkle-faced dignity, Gay Liz comix covers, thirty-something male hands sharing Affidavits of Domestic Partnership, magic homosex symbols flagged above Grove Street’s old brick roadway, a limp protestor dragged off by cops, a “Love Boys” spray-painted door, bath-house queens and bare chest youthful cuties, Priests & Amazons, campy mitered Bishops & Gay Church floats, 1973 night crowds and balloons, Stonewall Inn shut down, a sign for “Bagels And” above its old brown brick front.
These Anniversary parades and records thereof, like Fred McDarrah’s photograph (shown above), are now significant as we approach end of millennium. Think of present circumstances — recent revelation of the tortured & torturing blackmail psyche of the mad transvestite J. Edgar Hoover in the closet — the late powerful homophobe N.Y. Cardinal Francis Spellman dallying with Broadway chorus boys on the privacy of citizen Roy Cohn’s yacht! Roy Cohn, himself a tax-free anti-faggot power head queer lawyer for the N.Y. Diocese, organized crime hats, androgynous politicians & macho millionaires, gay pimp for the Director of the F.B.I. How many magic Cardinals & religious fanatic priests we see unmasked, their tenderest longings hid under the iron visage of censoriousness.
This year Cardinal Spellman’s successor Cardinal O’Connor still dares to put his Bible curse on gays, no public word whispered of his famous predecessor’s celebrated predilection for young men’s love. Thus while Catholic Ireland herself, through miraculous legislation, presently legitimizes homosexuality, the New York Cardinal scandalously prohibited Irish gay brigades from marching with the Green on St Patrick’s Day parades!
This degraded “Family Values” theopolitics has become a worldwide mask for mind control as against spiritual liberation. Hear the late Khomeini Ayatollah and his successor little Satans denounce “Spiritual Corruption,” along with Stalin, Mao & Hitler. Listen to Pat Robertson, his confrères & his guru W.A. Criswell, the fundamentalist Svengali of a “Biblical Inerrancy” cult, intolerant of any deviance from mind controlled by their interpretation of the “Good Book.”
These vicious priesthoods are allied with beer magnates and tobacco senators in hierarchies of political ambition, demagoguery, power addiction, nationalist chauvinism, military aggression, assassinations and war. Intolerant of other faiths, sexualities and folkways! Fraudulent ethical poseurs set family members against each other & oppose ancient true family values of sympathy, tolerance, forgiveness, intimacy, humor and fidelity.
To the Days
From you I want more than I’ve ever asked,
all of it — the newscasts’ terrible stories
of life in my time, the knowing it’s worse than that,
much worse — the knowing what it means to be lied to.
Fog in the mornings, hunger for clarity,
coffee and bread with sour plum jam.
Numbness of soul in placid neighborhoods.
Lives ticking on as if.
A typewriter’s torrent, suddenly still.
Blue soaking through fog, two dragonflies wheeling.
Acceptable levels of cruelty, steadily rising.
Whatever you bring in your hands, I need to see it.
Suddenly I understand the verb without tenses.
To smell another woman’s hair, to taste her skin.
To know the bodies drifting underwater.
To be human, said Rosa — I can’t teach you that.
A cat drinks from a bowl of marigolds — his moment.
Surely the love of life is never ending,
the failure of nerve, a charred fuse?
I want more from you than I ever knew to ask.
Wild pink lilies erupting, tasseled stalks of corn
in the Mexican gardens, corn and roses.
Shortening days, strawberry fields in ferment
with tossed aside, bruised fruit.
— Adrienne Rich
[“Then see to it that you stay human… Being human means joyfully throwing your whole life ‘on the scales of destiny’ when need be, but all the while rejoicing in every sunny day and every beautiful cloud. Ach, I know of no formula to write you for being human…”]
— Rosa Luxemburg, 1916
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 10, 2019