year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that took
place from June 27 to 29, 1969, in the Greenwich Village section of
NYC. The event is well-known because it galvanized LGBTQ+ activist
organizations and movements here and abroad.
I look back at the first night of the Stonewall Inn riots, I could
have never imagined its future importance. I couldn’t have
imagined the whitewashing of the event either. As with all iconic
narratives, though, apocryphal tales abound, along with questions
about the truth.
to many LGBTQ blacks and Latinx, one of the reasons for the gulf
between them and whites, and what prevented a united front against
homo/transphobia in local and national politics from forming, is how
the dominant white queer community rewrote and continues to control
the narrative of Stonewall. Like with Pride events, for example.
Stonewall turbulence started on the backs of working-class African
American and Latinx queers who patronized the bar. Those brown and
black LGBTQ people are not only absent from the photos of that night,
but they have been bleached from its written history.
first night of the riots played out no differently from previous
riots with black Americans and white law enforcement officers. And so
it was under reported.
I was there!
June 27, was the last day of school that year. My middle school
cronies and I looked forward to a summer reprieve from rioting
against Italian, Irish, and Jewish public school kids for being
bussed into their neighborhoods.
the summer months in Brooklyn’s African American enclaves only
escalated rioting between the NYPD and us. During this tumultuous
decade of black rage and white police raids, knee-jerk responses to
slights quickly set the stage for a conflagration, creating both
instantaneous and momentary fighting alliances in these Black
communities across gangs, class, age, ethnicity, and sexual
orientations—against police brutality.
night of June 27 started no differently than any other hot and humid
summer Friday evening in my neighborhood. Past midnight, folks with
no AC or working fans in their homes were hanging out. The news came
from one of our neighbors that “pigs”—a term we
called white police officers in the 1960s—“across the
bridge in Greenwich Village are beating up on black [F-word]s—right
American and Latinx patrons frequented the Stonewall Inn heavily and
thus comprised the largest percentage of protesters
on the first night of the riots. For homeless youth and young adults
who slept in nearby Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn was a stable
domicile. And its being raided was nothing new.
the 1960s, gay bars in the Village were routinely raided. As one
commenter on T-VOX, an LGBTQ+ support forum, noted, “Race is
said to have been another factor. The decision by the police to raid
the bar in the manner they did may have been influenced by the fact
that most of the ‘homosexuals’ they would encounter were
of color, and therefore even more objectionable.”
the ’60s, riots between white police officers and black
citizens took place in our neighborhoods, just as they still do
today: Ferguson, 2014 (Michael Brown); Baltimore, 2015 (Freddie
Gray); Louisiana, 2016 (Alton Sterling); Minnesota, 2016 (Philando
Castile), to name a few. On the first night of Stonewall, many of us
who went to the Village did so to retrieve our loved ones and leave.
It takes white privilege to fight the police, expect to walk away
alive, and create a hagiographical narrative of white heroism.
example, Roland Emmerich’s long-awaited 2015 film “Stonewall”
spurred both shock and disappointment in moviegoers, historians, and
LGBT activists, including myself. The film failed to depict an
accurate story, and in its place presented a revisionist history.
Emmerich apparently felt a more captivating narrative should center
around a blond, blue-eyed, “straight-acting” Midwestern
protagonist, likely in order to appeal to mainstream audiences.
didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for
straight people,” Emmerich told Buzzfeed. “As a director,
you have to put yourself in your movies, and I’m white and
doing so, Emmerich’s doppelganger, Danny, reinscribes the trope
of the white savior and action hero. Danny throws the first brick,
setting off the riots while shouting “GAY POWER!”. Even
though in real life, the shakers, movers, and brick throwers were
poor and working-class black and Latinx LGBTQs. I was disturbed by
Emmerich’s “Stonewall”—not only because of
its whitewashing, but also because of the enduring nature of this
today, trans communities of color are relegated to the margins of
Greenwich Village. Nonetheless, many force their way in to become a
visible and influential presence in our lives, leaving indelible
imprints despite being confronted with trans-phobia and
white-dominant control of the Stonewall narrative, meanwhile, must
relinquish its hold to give way to a broader truth.