The Stonewall Inn, where gays fought back against a police raid in 1969, is now the first national heritage site honoring gay people’s struggles. (For those who’ve never been there, it’s in Greenwich Village.) I was asked to be part of an event on Sept 20, promoting the idea of making it a national park. Speakers were 10 politicians, including NY Senator Gillibrand, and me. We were each allowed only 3 minutes. The politicians made rather bland speeches. I did my rabble-rousing best. A transcript is below. But if you really want to get the flavor, go to the YouTube video that another GLFer made (Donna Gottschalk), at medium. As I said, it’s only 3 minutes.
I’m Martha Shelley and I was one of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front. We’re at the Stonewall Inn today because of the riot that took place around these premises back in 196. Before then, gay people had to keep the most central part of our souls hidden in shame, and now we might have a national park celebrating our struggles. This is terribly important, because we need to know our history, not have it tamed down and prettified, the way they try to do to Martin Luther King, or even erased as though we never existed. So here’s some of that history.
The Stonewall Riot wasn’t the first of its kind. The first occurred in 1966, at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco. What’s special about the Stonewall Riot is that some of us seized the opportunity to form the Gay Liberation Front. Up to 1969, the existing gay organizations were assimilationist. They aimed to convince America that all gays wanted was acceptance into middle-class society. They pleaded. They were well-dressed and polite. And they got almost nowhere.
GLF was a coalition of radical gays from those mainstream organizations, gay radicals from socialist organizations, and street queens and dykes who’d never been organized before. We made alliances with other groups that shared our dreams of a just society, like the Black Panthers and the women’s liberation movement.
At one point, we put together a list of demands. These included the right to control your own body, which meant freedom to engage in consensual sexuality, reproductive rights for women, freedom to get high, and freedom not to have your ass drafted and shipped to Vietnam. Our demands included an end to racist oppression. They included economic justice.
We are here today because the in-your-face tactics of groups like GLF, Gay Activists Alliance, and Act-Up succeeded, at least to a certain extent. We have same-sex marriage. Now we can volunteer to have our openly gay asses blown up in the Middle East. America may be on the road to ending the drug war. BUT–every day we read about the cops murdering another unarmed black or Hispanic person and getting away with it. Our jails and prisons have become a vast gulag for poor minorities. Abortion rights are being slashed and women are still treated like baby-making machines. Economic inequality is astronomically worse: ordinary workers have lost their jobs, their homes, and their pensions, while CEO pay is somewhere between 700% and 1000% greater today than it was in 1969. And the filthy rich—I do mean filthy—want to keep us burning fossil fuels, so they can pile up more money while the whole planet goes down.
Let’s pause for a moment today, because we need to celebrate our victories. But only for a moment. And then let’s all of us—especially you young people—get out in the streets and organize.