Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stonewall Uprising

Still from Stonewall UprisingThose who have a vision of the 1960s as a rosy time of flower-bedraped hippies practising free love will have their eyes opened to another culture of "twilight people" slinking into Mafia-owned bars under the watchful eyes of armed police. As the doc Stonewall Uprising illustrates, even in New York City, the city's gay and lesbian population had a hard time of it. And given the criminalisation and pathologisation of alternate sexualities, it's not surprising that frustration bubbled up into violent rebellion, commonly known as the Stonewall Riots.

It's a story well told in the film, which premiered at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and is now playing in the USA. Based on a book by David Carter, the film posits that what is often termed a riot was actually an uprising and that the gay rights struggle is part of a larger civil rights movement. Carter's vision is for lesbian and gay history to be seen "as part of our common human story".

When Ed Koch's grim visage popped up on the screen, I had to stifle a bitter laugh. As a native New Yorker, I well remember the confirmed bachelor's tenure as mayor of the city. But, in the 1960s, as an ambitious city council member, Koch led the "clean-up" of the gay bars in the Village, lest the upstanding straights have to be confronted with the low-life dykes and fairies who patronised places like the Stonewall Inn, which was raided by police on 27 June 1969, providing the touch paper that lit the movement for gay liberation.

One wonders how many people who gather each year for Pride parades (often now with no LGBT or Q signifiers attached, I notice) actually realise that their knees-up commemorates a violent struggle for recognition of basic human rights.
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