Archive for June 2009
Slap Upside the Head commemorates the fact that Sunday was the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City that helped galvanize the American, thus international, gay movement. There had been increasing militancy following the 1950 foundation of the Mattachine Society and the rise of 1960s student radicalism, but the protest of patrons of a gay bar in Greenwich Village against police harassment spectacularly accelerated this change.
Raymond Castro was a regular at The Stonewall Inn in 1969, finding it a haven from a world where gay men and women could be arrested for kissing or holding hands in public. Inside the bar, where plywood covered the windows, warning lights served as a signal for couples to stop dancing.
When police raided the bar in the past for selling liquor without a license, patrons normally submitted to arrest or dispersed quietly. But on June 28, Castro recalled, people fought back.
As officers tried to throw him in a police wagon, Castro used the vehicle as a spring to push back, knocking them to the ground.
“They literally carried me into the … wagon and threw me in there,” recalled Castro, now 67. “It must’ve been the motivation of the crowd that inspired me to resist. Or maybe at that point enough was enough.”
The several days of disturbances that followed the uprising at the bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village became one of the defining moments of the gay rights movement. Thousands of people are converging on the city for gay pride events to mark the riots’ 40th anniversary, while a bill is pending in the Legislature to make New York the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Castro said the demonstrations became a catalyst for years of progress allowing gays and lesbians to live more open lives — although he didn’t see it at the time.
“I never thought 40 years ago that it would turn out to be much of anything,” he said in a phone interview. “I had no clue of history being made.”