June 29, 2009

Learning Something New...

I am stupid (well, maybe more just non-informed). I never knew the connection, but thanks to Jim over at Jim's Stuff , now I know (and so do you):

Ever wonder why so many queens are Judy Garland fans?

She suffered, she got back up when she was down, she was precociously, ludicrously talented, she liked getting smashed, she starred in the campest film on earth, and, oh yes, she played a formative role in the birth of the modern gay rights movement.

Dateline: June 1969
On Sunday 22 June 1969, Garland was found dead from an overdose in her London home. On Friday 27 June she was buried and a wake was held by her gay fans at the Stonewall Inn in New York. In the early hours of 28 June the police decided to raid the Stonewall.

The Stonewall Inn was located at 53 Christopher Street. It was an after-hours members only club that sold booze without a licence. It was a real dump.

What happened?
Some sources say that as `Somewhere Over the Rainbow` played on the jukebox, eight plainclothes officers raided the Stonewall Inn, led by Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine. Customers were allowed to leave whilst the owners were arrested. The mood was light, but then it changed when a police wagon appeared and some drag queens and a lesbian were forced into it. The crowd started to get angry, they started attacking the police, who retreated to the bar and locked themselves inside. People started to throw bricks through the windows, more police arrived, some started waving guns, and the disturbance grew into a full-scale riot.

As far as the punters were concerned, the raid was the latest example of police harassment of minority groups. Numerous gay bars had been closed down, people were running out of places to go and they just couldn't take it anymore. Everyone was sick of being criminalized by a brutal and unsympathetic police force. And then Judy died. People just couldn't take any more!

The aftermath?
Not everyone agreed that what happened at Stonewall was a riot. The New York press downplayed the events, calling it a "rampage." The whole thing took about 45 minutes, according to witnesses. But later that Saturday, in the evening, more people converged at the Stonewall Inn. They closed off the street, chanted slogans and fought back against the police. More disturbances took place over the next few nights, after which people decided to become more organised and develop their own political groups. In late July the Gay Liberation Front was formed and the rest, as they say, is history.

Judy would have been proud.

Michael and I spent the day at Chesapeake City Park yesterday. It was the first "Pride" event that either of us has really taken part of. On this, the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, it's the least we can do. So many have given so much more...

Over and "Out", from my end of the rainbow, in Portsmouth, VA.

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