Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saints of Stonewall launched LGBT rights movement

“It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard shows the Stonewall Rebellion
Oil on canvas, 24" x 36," 1999.

Queer people fought back against police harassment at New York City’s Stonewall Inn launching the modern LGBT liberation movement on June 28, 1969.

Their bold rebellion against government persecution of homosexuality is commemorated around the world during June as LGBT Pride Month. The Stonewall Uprising continues to inspire a variety of art that is featured here today.

This year the site of the Stonewall Uprising was designated a national monument by President Obama. “I’m designating the Stonewall National Monument as the newest addition to America’s National Park System. Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights,” he said.

The White House also released a video about the Stonewall Uprising and how it sparked a movement for LGBT equality. The monument includes the Stonewall Inn and nearly eight acres around it in New York's Greenwich Village.

The LGBT people who resisted police at the Stonewall Rebellion (also known as the Stonewall Riots) are not saints in the traditional sense. But they are honored here as “saints of Stonewall” because they dared to battle an unjust system. They do not represent religious faith -- they stand for faith in ourselves as LGBT people. They performed the miracle of transforming self-hatred into pride. These “saints” began a process in which self-hating individuals were galvanized into a cohesive community. Their saintly courage inspired a justice movement that is still growing stronger after four decades.

Before Stonewall, homosexuality was illegal and police regularly raided gay bars, where customers submitted willingly to arrest. A couple of dozen acts of resistance pre-dated and paved the way for Stonewall, such as the 1967 demonstration at the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles.

A new but controversial effort to tell the story of the uprising is the 2015 film “Stonewall.” It is directed by Roland Emmerich, better known for directing the action movie “Independence Day.” The film is a drama, not a documentary, told through the eyes of a fictional young white man from Indiana. Many in the LGBT community objected that the film downplayed the importance of drag performers, trans and bi women, butch lesbians and people of color in the Stonewall rebellion. Boycotts were organized to protest the way the erasure of these real-life activists in favor of a fictional white man.

The Stonewall Inn catered to the poorest and most marginalized queer people: drag queens, transgender folk, hustlers and homeless youth. Witnesses disagree about who was the first to defy the police raid in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. It was either a drag queen or a butch lesbian. Soon the crowd was pelting the officers with coins, bottles, bricks and the like. The police, caught by surprise, used nightsticks to beat some people before taking refuge in the bar itself. News of the uprising spread quickly. Hundreds gathered on the street and a riot-control police unit arrived. Violence continued as some chanted, “Gay power!”

Drag queens started spontaneous kick lines facing the police with clubs and helmets. That dramatic moment is captured in the painting “It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard. The drag queens met violence with defiant humor by singing,

We are the Stonewall girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear no underwear
We show our pubic hair
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!

That night 13 people were arrested and some hospitalized. The streets were mostly cleared by 4 a.m., but a major confrontation with police happened again the next night, and protests continued on a smaller scale for a week.

A month later the Gay Liberation Front was formed, one of many LGBT rights organizations sparked by the saints of Stonewall. LGBT religious groups are indebted to the saints of Stonewall for our very existence.

“Gay Liberation” by George Segal commemorates the Stonewall rebellion (Photo by Wally Gobetz)

One of the most significant Stonewall artworks is also the world’s first piece of public art honoring the struggle for LGBTQ equality. “Gay Liberation” was created in 1979 by famed pop sculptor George Segal. It consists of four statues, a gay couple and a lesbian couple, cast in bronze and painted white in Segal’s typical style. The figures are arranged realistically in casual poses, evoking the power of love with their ghostly presence.

The idea for a public sculpture honoring the 10th anniversary of Stonewall came from LGBT activist Bruce Voeller. His vision inspired the Mildred Andrews Fund of Cleveland to commission Segal to create the sculpture. After much controversy, vandalism and alternate locations, the sculpture was installed permanently across the street from the Stonewall Inn at Christopher Park, which also holds two monuments to Civil War heroes.

Artists usually choose between two approaches when addressing the Stonewall Uprising. Some focus on the action in the past while others highlight the present-day Stonewall Inn, which is still in operation as a bar for the LGBT community.

Artists who recreate the past include Doug Blanchard, a gay New York artist who teaches art at City University of New York and is active in the Episcopal Church. “It was Beautiful” and other Stonewall paintings by Blanchard were shown at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center of New York in 1999. His series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” has been featured here at the Jesus in Love Blog and in a 2014 book with text by Kittredge Cherry.

“The Battle of Stonewall - 1969” by Sandow Birk

California artist Sandow Birk put Stonewall history into heroic context in a big way. The oil paintings in his Stonewall series measure up to 10 feet wide. The crown jewel of the series is “The Battle of Stonewall - 1969.” It updates the classic painting “The Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle - 1304” by 19th-century French artist Charles Philippe Lariviere. In both cases, the physically superior side attacked those who were considered weaker, but the underdogs won and gained their freedom. Birk replaces swords with police batons and turns national flags into “Gay Power” banners. The knight in shining armor is replaced by a drag queen in mascara and high heels. For more about Birk’s Stonewall series, see my previous post: Sandow Birk: Stonewall's LGBT history painted.

The actual Stonewall riots weren’t as white as Birk's paintings make it appear: “On the first night of the Stonewall riots, African Americans and Latinos likely were the largest percentage of the protestors, because we heavily frequented the bar,” scholar-activist Irene Monroe writes in  Dis-membering Stonewall, her chapter in the book Love, Christopher Street. “For homeless black and Latino LGBTQ youth and young adults who slept in nearby Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn was their stable domicile.”

“Stonewall Inn” by Trudie Barreras (Collection of Kittredge Cherry)

The location where history happened is emphasized in the colorful painting of the Stonewall Inn by Trudie Barreras, a long-time member of Metropolitan Community Churches. Her art and writing on queer religious themes have appeared frequently here at the Jesus in Love Blog. She also does personalized pet portraits as “donation incentives” for Jesus in Love.

“Prostrations at the Holy Places and Veneration to Our Martyrs (Stonewall Pilgrimage)” by Tony O’Connell

British artist Tony O’Connell paid homage to the power of Stonewall by photographing his own personal pilgrimage to the historic bar in New York City in 2013. He prayed with incense at the Stonewall Inn as part of his series on LGBT pilgrimages, which he does as performances recorded in photos. He travels to places of importance in LGBT history, treating the trip as a pilgrimage to the shrine of a saint. For more about O’Connell’s pilgrimages and other art, see my previous post Tony O’Connell reclaims sainthood: Gay artist finds holiness in LGBT people and places.

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem and the Stonewall Riots happen in Station 8 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button

Tennessee artist Mary Button weaves together the LGBT uprising at Stonewall with Christ’s journey to Calvary in Station 8 of her LGBT Stations of the Cross. She shows that a chain of oppression that stretches from the crucifixion of Christ to police harassment of LGBT people today, offering hope for resurrection. For more about Button’s Stations, see my previous post LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.

Despite the progress made, police raids of gay bars have continued in recent years, such as the notorious 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid in Forth Worth, Texas. June 28 is also the anniversary of the 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge, a newly opened gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas. Five customers were zip-tied and taken to jail, multiple others were arrested or detained, and one got a severe brain injury while in custody. The raid sparked an unprecedented public outcry that led to reforms.

The history of the Rainbow Lounge raid and reaction is told in the 2012 film “Raid of the Rainbow Lounge,” directed by Robert Camina. He says it has “haunting parallels” to Stonewall. Emmy-nominated actress Meredith Baxter narrates the documentary. A video trailer is posted online.

May the saints of Stonewall continue to inspire all who seek justice and equality!

Related links:

2015 book for teens: “Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights” by Ann Bausum

Book: “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution” by David Carter

Book: “Stonewall” by Martin Bauml Duberman

Video: “American Experience: Stonewall Uprising

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts


Trudie said...

Another lovely travel backwards in time. Thank you again, Kitt, for keeping these spectacular anniversaries freshly focused. In 1969, at the time of the Stonewall Uprising, we were living in Tuskegee, working at Tuskegee Institute, and had just experienced the "Tuskegee Uprising" where Ray became very much involved with advocacy for the students. At that time, of course, he had not yet come out to me, so my awareness of what was happening in the Gay community was nonexistent.

Ten years later, Atlanta celebrated the "Lavender Anniversary" of Stonewall. By that time we'd moved here, and that was the first Gay Pride march in which we participated. Four months later, the first Gay March on Washington, DC, found us participating there as part of Dignity. As the play "Cats" sings..."Memories...!"

Turtle Woman said...

I was in New York City that summer, and at the age of 12 was excited to see the ticker tape parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts... little did I realize that 25 years later, I would be marching down the same route for the Stonewall 25 celebration. To make it even more magical, as we checked into our hotel on Times Square, I walked into a gift shop just as Age of Aquarius started to play in 1994!

KittKatt said...

It’s fun to think about what each of us was doing during the Stonewall Uprising. I don’t have a strong memory of summer 1969 myself. Thanks for the memories, Trudie and Turtle Woman! I’m also thinking of the Barbara Streisand song, “Memories” (from “The Way We Were.”)

Lynn Jordan said...

May we also remember the 32 LGBT saints who perished in he arson fire of The Upstairs Lounge - a gay-friendly bar in the New Orleans French Quarter. Among the LGBT patrons killed in the fire on June 24, 1973 was 1/3 of the congregation of MCC NEW Orleans including its pastor Bill Larson. I had attended worship service sat MCC New Orleans in the fall of 1971 and in September 1973 returned to New Orleans to view the site of the fire and worship with the surviving members of MCC New Orleans. The interior photographs from the fire at the Lounge are as vivid now as they were in 1973. A month later on July 27, 1973 MCC San Francisco's church would be torched by an arsonist early in the morning - there were no injuries or loss of life, It was our epiphany that only a building was destroyed and not a church - we were the Church Alive. Lynn

KittKatt said...

God bless you, Lynn, for calling our attention to the 32 who died in the gay bar fire in New Orleans at the end of June 1973 -- the deadliest gay massacre in US history. They can rightly be called martyrs and join the LGBT saints honored here.

I updated this “Saints of Stonewall” post with info about the New Orleans fire and a photo of the memorial plaque. I also lit a candle today for the 32 victims of the New Orleans fire at the Jesus in Love Blog’s online All Saints - All Souls Memorial

I have written before on this blog about queer martyrs who were burned at the stake for sodomy in during medieval times. (See Ash Wednesday: Queer martyrs rise from the ashes.) Maybe arson fires of gay bars are a new form of this historic horror!

For those who want to learn more about the fire at the UpStairs Lounge, click on these links:

Gay Weddings and 32 Funerals: Remembering the UpStairs Lounge Fire (HuffPost)

Not To Ruin Your Pride, But Today Marks The Deadliest Gay Massacre In US History (Queerty)

The Upstairs Fire 25th anniversary memorial service
(includes names of the victims who died)

Turtle Woman said...

I read all links to the stories on the UpStairs Lounge fire, and it was horrifying. I'd heard about this fire from MCC people since the mid-80s, but back then, it always bothered me. Call it denial, but I often think these things are inside jobs. So the horror of internalized homophobia is that a gay person himself could very well have set the fire... but the police didn't give a damn, and the entire city of New Orleans was so awful to the survivors and victims. Imagine if all churches in New York City refused to do funerals for the victims of 9/11? Honestly, they were still refusing to do funerals for people who died of AIDS early on as well. The families who were too scared or ashamed to claim the ashes of their boys? Sometimes I think we can't tell these stories enough, and straight people need to hear them!!

KittKatt said...

The New Orleans fire has many interesting aspects, which I hope to address by writing a separate post about it in the future. Turtle Woman, you’re right that a gay man, a customer of the bar, was suspected of starting the fire, although police apparently didn’t care enough to try to solve this crime against queers. The real culprit is still homophobia. A gay man may have lit the fire, but it was society’s homophobia that set the fuse inside him. Self hatred can be just as dangerous as hatred directed at others.

The barred-up windows were another deadly aspect of their internalized homophobia. The fire was especially deadly because the Upstairs Lounge was a secretive place with bars and boards on the windows so nobody could see who was inside. But it turned out that these also prevented many people from getting outside in an emergency.

Nancy Wilson, moderator of MCC, used to say often, “Straight people will cry at our funerals, but they won’t dance at our weddings.” In this case, as you point out, they wouldn’t even cry at our funerals. Like you, I was really shocked that some families refused to claim or identify the remains of their dead gay sons.

I hope that by retelling this story, this horrific history will not have to repeat itself.

Trudie said...

Couldn't resist yet another postscript, apropos of the New Orleans MCC fire. As you know, I've been beating drums recently for a broader view of the viciousness of oppression, not only homophobia but also misogyny and other aspects of religiously-inspired cruelty. This discussion reminded me of something I recently read in a book I've commented on, "Half the Church". It is the 2002 death of 15 Saudi Arabian school girls whom police literally drove back into their burning school building because they were not "properly dressed" - that is, weren't wearing head scarves! I Googled this incident just to be sure I had the date right...and yes, indeed, I did!

Turtle Woman said...

This story continues to haunt me, and it's been almost a week since it was up. I just can't get over the horror of it, and the depth of the outrage. I think what shocks me the most is when I think I know about some event (historical), and then suddenly, completely new information about the event comes to me. Many of the most powerful lesbian and gay spiritual voices, leaders, wise people etc. have come out of this world. 1973, that was when Watergate was in the news, and that event changed my life too. I think about what news I knew about in 1973 and what news I never knew about. I think of 1978 and the two stories of that time: Harvey Milk and Jonestown, but it was only Jonestown that was known to me in 1978. Even though I was a junior in college at the time, I never heard of Harvey Milk or of his assassination. Jonestone haunted me. I even went to a special event for all the survivors of Jonestown in 1988... the 10 year anniversary of this horror.
Horror and homophobia dog us. Lately, I find myself speechless, trying to deal with the reality that gay people are under attack night and day, trying not to let it get to me. Trying not to let the knowledge that men are making millions of dollars degrading women and children in pornography.
And all I can say in the face of it, is thank GOD for Lynn, and Sage and Trudie and Kitt... Thanks GOD for that quiet voice of service that is Lynn, because we need to celebrate the people who were there, we need to know what homophobia does to us, who it kills and why. But without the Lynns, Trudies and Sages of this world, we just might not know the truth on an emotional level... and it is that emotional truth that can do you in if you don't deal with it! And this doesn't even get at all of it for me, not even close.

KittKatt said...

The tragedy of the Upstairs Lounge Martyrs is resounding powerfully for many of us. Thanks, Trudie and Turtle Woman, for your heartfelt comments.

Terry Weldon put his reflections into a post today titled Martyrs of the Upstairs Lounge Fire at the Queering the Church Blog.

It is almost overwhelming to consider what Terry called “the dark days from which we have come.”

I am reminded of the hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing , which is sometimes called the African American National Anthem. We sang it often when I was at MCC San Francisco:

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us…

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
'Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

CJ Barker said...

A very happy belated What-Used-To-Be-Called-Gay-Freedom-Day to you, and everyone Kitt!

I once heard a comic remark, "We traded in Freedom for Pride... are we *sure* that was such a good deal?" And there's a part of me that pretty much agrees. Though the two are for sure intimately related, I think we far too often forget that what freedom we have is recent, and dearly bought.

Like Trudie, my first Gay Freedom Day/Pride was in 1979- though I read about Stonewall in 1972, in that Life magazine article I posted pictures from in my first post here about a year ago. But boy, do I remember that first late June Sunday I spent in San Francisco oh so many years ago.

My home that summer of '79 was my parent's place in the East Bay, where I was recovering from mono. It was right after the San Francisco White Night riots - one of the community's responses to Dan White getting a mere 7 years for the Milk-Moscone murders. I was 20, and still desperately trying to wrap my mind around the idea that the people who had been calling for the death penalty for homosexuality the summer before -during the anti gay Briggs initiative campaign of 1978, the one that *made* Harvey Milk's political career- had gotten their way, and that even though a prominent and powerful straight politician had sort of been caught in the cross fire, a jury had still only thought the crime worth 7 years -an openly gay politician successfully out-politicing a decent, god-fearing, country-and-flag-loving ex-cop apparently being so over the top infuriating that double murder done in response was somehow understandable and essentially excusable. The thought that kept filling my mind was, "There are people - apparently alot of them- who want us dead. Who want *me* dead. For this. For who I fall in love with. And if they can't get the state to do it... some of them will feel justified in just doing it themselves. And alot of others will think that's basically ok."

That Pride day in 1979 was the first time I ever ventured out to try and find this "gay community" I kept hearing about- this place where maybe you could go and maybe feel safe; a place where it might be ok to have feelings like mine. And I did find out alot that day- though I didn't understand the significance of most of it until a few years later.

CJ Barker said...

That weekend there was a "New Age" fair in San Francisco as well (can you imagine? someone scheduling a competing event for Pride weekend in SF? *Very* different times.) that our family's church (the Church of Religious Science- now called Centers for Spiritual Living, I believe) was involved in, so I told my parents I was going to that, hopped on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and headed for the rally at Civic Center instead.

Some of the things I remember from that day:

-Flo Kennedy speaking about the riots, and whether people needed to be embarrassed about the violence involved. ("The right to violence is like the right to piss. You ain't gonna do it here... but don't let anyone tell you, you ain't got the right.")

- A young Willie Brown -later Speaker of the California Assembly, and later still, "Da Mayor," of San Francisco- hamming it up and shilling for event donations from the main (in those days the *only*) stage. I didn't find out till a couple of years later *why* he had that job - and why the crowd so loved him. It was because he was the person who, along with the late George Moscone, had made it *legal* to be gay in California. As San Francisco's two representatives in the State legislature, they had led the successful fight -finally won in 1975- to enact a "consenting adults" law that exempted un-coerced things done between grown ups from the state's sodomy laws.

Though I didn't know his connection to that law at the time, I certainly did know about the law itself. I'd read about it four years earlier, while the fight was still going on, as a 16 year old thrilled and scared by her first relationship, barely able to process the fact that the things being said were being said about *me.* One unfortunate provision of the law was that it mandated severe penalties for anyone over 18 caught in an act with someone under 18- including an 18 year old caught with 17 year old. So, two years later, when I was 18 and my 5-months-younger girl friend was still waiting to turn 18, I had occasion to think about about it quite a bit, as we sat in her Dodge, doing the things that teenagers sometimes do in the back seats of cars, and realizing that what we were engaged in was in fact quite illegal, and I could actually go to prison for it if we were caught- for up to 15 years!

Thanks to Willie Brown and George Moscone and Troy Perry and the many others who fought the years long battle for that law, that was the *only* time in my life as a lesbian that I actually engaged in criminal conduct in the course of just living my life as a gay person; but for years, every time "gay freedom day" rolled around, I would find myself remembering, amidst all the celebrating and partying, that for people only a few years older than me, that absolutely wasn't the case, and that the *freedom* we all had to actually to live out who we were was exactly that: freedom - something that people had had to fight, and fight hard, for, just to give us the right to have the ways in which we loved each other not constitute criminal acts.

CJ Barker said...

Other things I remember from that first Pride-

-A union boss of some kind, all stiff in his starched business suit, looking awkward and *totally* out of place, but still dutifully using words like "solidarity," and saying things like, "We stand with you in your fight for justice." I remember thinking how odd and uncomfortable he looked, and wondering what on earth he was doing there. A few years later, of course, after "The Times of Harvey Milk," came out, I found out - how so much of the rise of gay political power in SF was due to the gay/labor alliance forged when Harvey Milk got Coors beer - then subject of a national labor boycott - out of *all* the gay bars in San Francisco.

- The booths... my goodness, all the booths..... *especially* the ones with books. There were so many of them, and I absolutely ate that up- reading my way from one end to the other all afternoon. Until, that is, I got to the one from the now long defunct ,"A Woman's Place" bookstore in Oakland, and got stopped dead in my tracks by a four page xeroxed sheet called, "The Lesbian Book List." I spent most of the rest of the afternoon picking up and thumbing through as many of the most interesting sounding titles as I could, reading some parts over and over, trying desperately to memorize them, as I didn't dare take books like that home. I debated long and hard about taking the list itself... it was smaller and easier to hide, but having it might still risk getting caught. In the end, though, I did - and began what turned out to be a lifelong habit of reading just about anything I could get my hands on about gay rights and lgbt history.

I had to leave not long after that... I realized I had best at least put in an appearance at the church booth over at that New Age fair, lest my folks find out I hadn't been where I'd said I 'd been, and start to ask uncomfortable questions about where I *had* been. So I did that, and then headed back to BART- only to discover that my wallet was missing!! The pocket on the back of my backpack (note: at the time, it was still unusual for people to carry backpacks!) was wide open and it was gone- the pocket had been picked! There hadn't been very much of any monetary value in it - just one lone 10 cent BART ticket that I'd planned to use to get in the gate, then add the rest of the fare at the other end of the trip (where the lines were shorter). But it did have several irreplaceable family pictures, including a couple of ones of my grandmothers as young women, c.1915 or so, dressed in overalls and hiking garb. I just loved those pictures - showing as they did a time in the past when at least some people in my family had pursued some "non traditional" roles for women - and thought it ok enough to take pictures of it. And I felt *very* bad about losing them.

CJ Barker said...

The following week, I had to go about the process of getting new copies of all the replaceable things that had been in the wallet - drivers license, insurance cards, grocery discount cards etc. - and that meant asking my parents for at least a ride to the dmv. When I told my mom why I needed to go, she was surprised and said something like, "Really? At an event like that?" (meaning of course, the fair.) "I wouldn't think that people at something like that would do such a thing." Then later somehow it came up - did she say it? did I? did it come from my dad, or one of my brothers? perhaps the radio or the tv? I truly don't remember - but someone pointed out that well, there had been this *other* event in the City that day, too- this gay parade. And I'll never forget what she said then, almost casually, "Oh... well then of course... that's exactly the kind of person who would do this kind of thing - the kind of person who would go to a thing like that."

About three weeks later- just about the time the last of the replacements was arriving (note: they actually had to get things printed somewhere else and then mail them in those days- how on earth did we ever live in such a world - where you couldn't have just everything in an instant?) a most amazing thing happened. A package arrived in the mail... with my wallet inside!! No return address, no note, no explanation... just a San Francisco postmark. And the only thing missing? That little 10 cent BART ticket. I still have the old CA Drivers License that came back to me that day, and of course those wonderful pictures. And every time I look at one of them, I'm reminded of that first Pride Sunday I ever went to, and of my mother's attitude, and of what turned out to be the truth about the "kinds" of people and things you could expect in such a place, on such a day. I don't even begrudge whoever took the wallet and the ticket. I hope it helped them - or someone, somewhere - to get to a little closer to somewhere they needed to be. Because you see, whoever took the time and the care -and the expense! - (it cost alot more than 10 cents -even then)- to get that wallet back to me helped me to get me a little closer to where I needed to be. Because when that wallet came back, I suddenly had real, hard, physical, tangible evidence that maybe, just maybe, my mother wasn't really right about the utter nefariousness of the "kind of people" who would go to San Francisco for an event "like that." People like me.

KittKatt said...

It’s important to document our history, so I am approving CJ’s long 4-part comment. CJ, you certainly paint a vivid and detailed picture of SF Freedom Day in 1979. Like you, I miss “Freedom Day” and have a hard time with the newer term “Pride Day.” I would much rather have freedom than pride, but I do understand that healthy self esteem is a path to freedom.

I can also relate to your joy about the wonderful booths that used to be plentiful LGBT Freedom Day. These days in Los Angeles many (most?) of the booths at “Christopher Street West” (as its called here) are for corporate sponsors… just not the same as community-based groups and bookstores. Thanks for the memories!

Turtle Woman said...

Wow, C.J., I was just riveted by your incredible story! And I find it telling that we have moved from a powerful word like "Freedom Day" to "Pride Day." We have taken a weaker word. It's like women's movement vs. women's liberation. Liberation is the power word, and patriarchy always has to undermine women's power... hense they create "women's lib"-- you know, men have to "joke" and women have to laugh at their jokes.

We have gone from revolution lesbian freedom days to corporate booths at the parade grounds. We've gone from amazon warrior women in booths to Wells Fargo home loans! Yikes!

Still, the first freedom day parade is always the great collective story we can all share with one another. Each story unique, and yet so right on, so frozen in time, to capture each generation of lesbian and gay's struggle for joy, collective ecstacy... July 4 Independence Day used car sale anyone :-)

Turtle Woman said...

Rev. Robert Richardson, the Episcopal priest who bravely stepped forward to have a memorial service for the UpStairs Lounge victims just jumps off the page of this story. Is he still alive? He was a closeted gay priest in 1973, and I can only imagine how much courage it took for him to do those memorial services. C.J. captures the level of fear even in 1979, but I think we have to remember how powerful well placed gay men struggled in fear inside those gilded closets. So I am interested in the story of Rev. Richardson who is a true gay hero.
I am interested in the women who died in the fire, the mother and her two sons. It seems to me that now that we have historical perspective here, we deserve to fully tell this story, and really realize that we have 32 gay martyrs who died in flames, just like women who were burned at the stake in Medieval and Renaissance times (Renaissance being the male Renaissance... women were burned and tortured while Erasmus approved of it all). History is not equal, and the complexity of that is something worth thinking about.

KittKatt said...

Sharing each of our memories of our first LGBT march (whether Pride, Freedom or Whatever) is indeed a powerful experience, Turtle Woman.

I share your respect for the lone Episcopal priest who was willing to do funerals for the Upstairs Lounge martyrs. Note: His name was Rev. WILLIAM "Father Bill" Richardson (not Robert).

Turtle Woman, you’re delving deep into aspects of the Upstairs Lounge fire that I haven’t had time to cover yet on this blog! Rev. Richardson’s name must have jumped out at you from one of the other links. His heroism is described in this quote from the HuffPost's "Gay Weddings and 32 Funerals" link above:

"William 'Father Bill' Richardson, the closeted rector of St. George's Episcopal Church, agreed to allow a small prayer service to be held on Monday evening. It was advertised only by word of mouth and drew about 80 mourners. The next day, Richardson was rebuked by Iveson Noland, the Episcopalian bishop of New Orleans, who forbade him to let the church be used again. Bishop Nolan said he had received over 100 angry phone calls from local parishioners, and Richardson's mailbox would later fill with hate letters."

CJ Barker said...

Thanks for indulging my overlong remembrances, Kitt. They were particularly on my mind this year, because this year, for the first time in over 30 years, I actually felt both well enough and *safe* enough (ie no longer closeted at church) that I actually *marched* in the SF parade.

I'm sorry to hear that it's mostly corporate booths in LA. There's tons of that here too, of course, but at least where I was there were plenty of community groups, too. I volunteered to work at the Freedom in Christ Evangelical Church booth- which was right next to Dignity's and not far from the local atheists'.

I've worked the ehn (environmental health network) booth at local events for years, and I really love the chances for fun information sharing and community building that tabling that way affords. I absolutely *adore* giving out bright orange ladybug stickers that say, "Pesticide Free Zone," and then joking with folks about whether or not any of us can in fact truly be "pesticide free zones," at all, and then talking about and what we can all do to get the toxics out of our lives. But I must say, it was a whole 'nother level of fun and challenge to hand out bright purple "Christian + Gay = OK" stickers to any and all comers, in the midst of the wary-of-all-things-Christian body crush that is Pride Sunday in SF. But it really was fun and joyful, even if it didn't include the kind of chances to talk that I'm used to, and I'm *so* glad that I did it.

And Turtle Woman, I very much agree about the Rev. Richardson, and the martyrs of that night. That really is exactly what I was trying to get at in my post. If we're not gonna use the one real holiday we have to remember..... well, then just when *are* we going to remember? Am I "proud" of what he did? Of course. Just like I'm "proud" of what Willie Brown and Harvey Milk and George Moscone and Dell and Phyl, and so many others did, too- and proud to be part of a community that includes and has included such people. But I don't think pride by itself is by itself nearly enough of a motivator to get us out and doing all the hard work that still needs doing. For that I think you need other things - things like gratitude, and admiration, and even regret and remorse over past suffering and loss. Holidays that last almost always have that solemn day-of-remembrance/ vigil-the-night-before side to them. I'd just like to see us start remembering the solemn side of ours.

KittKatt said...

CJ, I like the stickers you were handing out at Gay Pride Day, especially the bright purple "Christian + Gay = OK" stickers. It reminds me of the “Christian lesbian” buttons that Rev. Nancy Wilson and I wore at the World Council of Churches meeting in Australia. When we weren’t wearing the buttons, everyone was friendly to us. When we wore the “Christian lesbian” buttons, almost everyone avoided us, but those who did speak to us were super-friendly.

My computer is working again and all problems seem to be solved by a new “power unit.” Many thanks to the wonderful neighbor who helped fix my computer -- and to everyone who joined me in prayers for this quick, inexpensive solution.

Anonymous said...

Please know there is now a book on the Upstairs, "Let the Faggots Burn" by Johnny Townsend. It is a paperback on Amazon and also out there as an ebook.

KittKatt said...

Thanks, Wes, for letting us know about this resource. I looked on Amazon and saw that "Let The Faggots Burn" is indeed available there. I will also pass on this info to a friend who will be interested.