Memories of Stonewall


Stonewall_riots The Stonewall Riot

The Stonewall Riot happened on a Saturday night—June 28, 1969. I was passing through Greenwich Village that night and saw young guys throwing things at cops, but had no idea why. I assumed it was an anti-war demonstration, because they occurred fairly regularly during those years. I only found out that it was a gay uprising the next day, when the NY Times reported it.

The news was electrifying. I immediately called Jean Powers, who was running the Daughters of Bilitis (D.O.B.) from behind the scenes because of her employment situation, and said that we needed to have a protest march. She told me to get in touch with Dick Leitsch, head of the Mattachine Society (the gay men’s organization). “If they agree, we can jointly sponsor it.”

Mr. Leitsch didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic. He did tell me that the Mattachine was having a meeting at Town Hall, a public auditorium in NYC, and that I should attend the meeting and propose such a march. When I arrived, the hall was packed: 400 gay guys, one female Mattachine member, and me. I don’t remember all the discussion, except that Bob Kohler (who later became one of the founders of Gay Liberation Front), spoke passionately about the young guys in the streets—guys who’d been thrown out by their parents for being gay, and who were earning their living by prostitution and desperately needed help.

When I proposed a march, Mr. Leitsch asked how many people were in favor of it. A forest of hands went up. I think that surprised him, because he was used to being the only public spokesman for gays in the city—everyone else was cowering in the closet. At the end of the meeting, he said that those who wanted to organize it should meet “over in that corner.”

We formed a committee on the spot and agreed to meet again at the Mattachine offices. There we decided on a date in July. The Mattachine and the D.O.B. took out an ad in the Village Voice advertising the event. My job was to ask the police if we needed a permit. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to our persecutors, but I made the call and was told that a permit was only required if we intended to use sound equipment. We figured that wasn’t necessary—we didn’t expect a huge crowd, and we could yell loud enough without amps.

I don’t remember the date, but according to the Village Voice article, the march took place two weeks after the riot. It was a sunny afternoon. Marty and I led the participants around Greenwich Village, and then assembled in Sheridan Square Park in front of the Stonewall. He and I took turns jumping up on the drinking fountain and making short speeches. After saying my piece, I looked out at the crowd and asked people to go home peacefully—that today’s event was over, but that this was just the beginning, and we would be back.

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