Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Liza Minnelli Stepping Out! 2015

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Stonewall Riots, Drag Queens, and Judy Garland by Toby Johnson
The Stonewall Riots, Drag Queens, and Judy Garland

From my understanding of the event (based on my working with Toby Marotta on the book The Politics of Homosexuality which included an elaborate account of Stonewall), what "empowered" the patrons at the Stonewall Inn was a general hippie/countercultural rejection of societal power structures (arising from the anti-war movement) AND, importantly, from a sense of numbers.

I think -- and I don't claim to be right, only to have an opinion -- what happened is that earlier that the day, Friday, June 27th, 1969, a great many men from the Village flocked to Judy Garland's funeral at a upper Eastside funeral parlor at Madison Ave and 81st. What impressed them -- and in the early hours of the next day, mobilized them to resist the police raid on the Stonewall Inn -- wasn't Garland's divahood (after all, it had been her downfall), but rather the number of other gay men they saw at the event. These were Garland's fans. There were crowds of homosexuals recognizing each other on the street in front of the funeral parlor.

Garland's funeral turned out to be a sort of proto-gay pride event. And it demonstrated there was power in numbers -- that was something "in the air" in those days as one anti-war mobilization after another demonstrated how many people were "anti-establishment."

The Stonewall Inn was a sort of hippie bar. The "street queens" weren't politicos and they weren't "drag queens" in the sense of female impersonators or drag performers. (The bar was not particularly welcoming to true drag queens/female impersonators and, in fact, had a quota on the number the bouncer allowed in.) They were hippies in so-called "gender fuck drag." And they were likely high on pot or tripping on acid.

The Stonewall Inn, in fact, had been under attack by the fledging gay politicos of the time. About a year and a half earlier, Craig Rodwell (previous President of the Mattachine Society New York and founder of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop) had written an article for a MSNY newsletter called The Hymnal tracing a rash of Hepatitis A infections to the bar. It was believed by the proto-actvists with the Mattachine that the bar didn't wash glasses between uses. This lack of concern for the patrons' well-being was attributed to the bar's Mafia ownership.

As time has passed, the mythology of Stonewall has come to valorize drag queens as the champions of political and cultural revolution. That's probably missing the point that it was the anti-Establishment tenor of the times, hippie nonchalance and joie de vivre, gay men's sense of being outsiders, and, very importantly, the drugs -- and then the sense of numbers and power observed at Garland's funeral -- that gave the patrons at the Stonewall Inn the impulse to resist the police that night. And inadvertently to initiate the transformation of how gay people see themselves that is the gay rights movement!

This was liberation through consciousness change. And that is our queer contribution to the effort of human consciousness to understand how to transform itself and save the future.
NYC - West Village: Stonewall Inn
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At about 1am on June 28, 1969, hours after Judy Garland's funeral, the gay bar known as the Stonewall Inn was raided by the police setting off events that resulted in the birth of the modern gay and lesbian rights movement. Although the raid itself was not an unusual event, the fact that bar patrons fought back, forcing the police to retreat, galvanized the community. The anniversary is celebrated annually around the world with parades and other gay pride events.

The Stonewall Inn closed in late 1969. It remained closed for over 20 years. It was revitalized in the late 1990's and became a popular multi-floor nightclub until it closed again in 2006 when management lost its lease. Under the new management of the next door duplex Piano Bar, it reopened in 2007.

The Stonewall Inn is located in the Greenwich Village Historic District, designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1969.

National Historic Register #99000562

Continue reading at NYC - West Village: Stonewall Inn
NowPublic Photo Archives
Continue reading at NYC - West Village: Stonewall Inn
NowPublic Photo Archives

June 27, 2007

Judy Garland & Stonewall

Thirty eight years ago today Judy Garland's funeral was held at the Frank Campbell funeral home in Manhattan. People lined up for hours. That night, the police raided a bar on Christopher Street called the Stonewall Inn. Some people said the reason for the uprising was that Judy had died. Some said it was the full moon that night. Some said, after a decade of watching the civil rights movement, and the women's rights movement, it was time for queer people to fight back.

On the day Judy died, I was at a medieval tournament held in New Jersey under the auspices of the Society for Creative Anachronism. I was 16 years old and desperately trying to come out. I had been to the Oscar Wilde bookshop on Mercer Street, where I listened to the advice of Craig Rodwell. I had gone to Julius' on Waverly and West 10th, still there today, and was not merely underage, but certainly the only person in the bar under 30, which for a skittish 16 year old was rather terrifying. I had been to the West Side Discussion Group, which met at the Church of the Holy Apostle (now home to, among other things, the "gay synagogue" Congregation Beth Simchat Torah) and where every week people talked about homosexuality in polite ways and politics was not the agenda. But on the day Judy died, I was in New Jersey, dancing the galliard and the gavotte while other young men in faux chain mail hit each other was fake swords. On the bus going back that night, we sang Over The Rainbow.

Who knows what I was doing the night of the street fighting. I certainly didn't even know about them until the following Wednesday, when I read the homophobic accounts by reporters from the Village Voice, whose offices were just down the street from the bar, at the site now occupied by the Duplex. I do know that when I read the Voice's story I was outraged by not only the police, but by the so-called liberal newspaper using words to describe queer people that I thought were hateful. Words like, well, queer, haha. Times change. Within a year I was going to meetings of the Gay Liberation Front at Alternate U. on Sixth Avenue and 14th Street. I was a member of Gay Youth. The wall of my bedroom was decorated wtih posters of Oscar Wilde and Allen Ginsberg. I went on demonstrations, and eventually, as a member of the Gay Activists Alliance, on zaps.

I'm a member of the Stonewall Generation. And as it happens, the first movie I ever saw, at age two, was the Wizard of Oz. My mother took me when it was re-released into theaters just in time for the baby boom. She was nervous I would fidget, or cry when Margaret Hamilton as the Witch was on screen. I am told I sat as though hypnotized. So there you have it. Judy Garland and The Wizard of Oz made me gay. The CBS broadcasts in the 60s made an entire generation gay. And Judy's death sent us over the edge. If that's what you want to believe. Heaven knows there are enough wingnuts out there who would believe it. And while they were probably raising glasses to toast her at Julius', some of the people at the Stonewall had more practical things to think about, like where they might be sleeping that night.

All I know is this. I am grateful there was a performer I grew up watching who was completely vulnerable on stage, so that I learned it wasn't shameful to show that vulnerability. And I am grateful there were queer people who had the courage to stand up to the New York Police Force (and as the mythology goes danced in a rockettes style kick line) and fought back— because this wasn't a riot, it was an uprising. To quote a leaflet that was posted on the wall of the Stonewall later that week: Think homosexuals are revolting? You bet we are!

Posted at 10:48 PM in Activism, GLBT, New York City, Politics

Out of the Past: Judy Garland

13 November 2003


Ever wondered 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 criminalised 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.

Buy the essential gay CD, `Judy at Carnegie Hall` online and save money.

By: CC

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