The beginning of the modern, aggressive gay rights movement can be traced to the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, New York in late June 1969.
“The Manhattan neighborhoods of Greenwich Village and Harlem were home to a sizable homosexual population after World War I, when many men and women who had served in the military took advantage of the opportunity to settle in larger cities, many having come from the small-town and rural America that existed before the “war to end all war”. The enclaves of gays and lesbians, described by a newspaper story as “short-haired women and long-haired men”, developed a distinct subculture through the following two decades – until the early 1950s.
The new “Prohibition” inadvertently benefited gay establishments, as drinking alcohol was pushed underground along with other behaviors considered immoral. New York City [as well as other urban areas] passed laws against homosexuality in public and private businesses, but because alcohol was in high demand, “speakeasies” and impromptu drinking establishments were so numerous and temporary that authorities were unable to police them all. One of those speakeasies is still in operation – The 21 Club – or just “21”.
The first version of the club opened in Greenwich Village in 1922, run by cousins Jack Kreindler and Charlie Berns. It was originally a small speakeasy known as the Red Head. In 1925 the location was moved to a basement on Washington Place and its name was changed to Frontón. The following year it moved uptown to 42 West 49th Street, changed its name to the Puncheon Club, and became much more exclusive. In 1929, to make way for the construction of Rockefeller Center, the club moved to its current location, 21 W. 52nd St., and changed its name to “Jack and Charlie’s 21”.
Although raided by police numerous times during Prohibition for serving alcohol, the two were never caught. As soon as a raid began, a system of levers was used to tip the shelves of the bar, sweeping the liquor bottles through a chute and into the city’s sewers. The bar also included a secret wine cellar, which was accessed through a hidden door in a brick wall which opened into the basement of the building next door (number 19).
Though still used as a wine cellar today, part of the vault has been remodeled to allow a party of up to 20 guests to dine in private. Club 21 also stored the private wine collections of such celebrities as Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford; Joan Crawford; Elizabeth Taylor; Ernest Hemingway; The Nordstrom Sisters; Frank Sinatra; Al Jolson; Gloria Vanderbilt; Sophia Loren; Mae West; Zsa Zsa Gabor; Aristotle Onassis; Gene Kelly; Gloria Swanson; Judy Garland; Sammy Davis, Jr.; and Marilyn Monroe.
Following the social upheaval of World War II, many people in the United States felt a fervent desire to “restore the prewar social order and hold off the forces of change”, according to historian Barry Adam. Spurred by the national emphasis on anti-communism, Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted hearings searching for communists in the U.S. government, the U.S. Army, and other government-funded agencies and institutions, leading to a national paranoia.
Anarchists, communists, and other people deemed un-American and subversive were considered security risks. Homosexuals were included in this list by the U.S. State Department in 1950, on the theory that they were susceptible to blackmail. Under -Secretary of State James E. Webb noted in a report, “It is generally believed that those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons.” Between 1947 and 1950, 1,700 federal job applications were denied, 4,380 people were discharged from the military, and 420 were fired from their government jobs for being suspected homosexuals.
In response to this trend, two organizations formed independently of each other to advance the cause of the homosexual community and provide social opportunities where gays and lesbians could socialize without fear of being arrested. Los Angeles area homosexuals created the Mattachine Society in 1950, in the home of communist activist Harry Hay – an unfortunate pairing. Their objectives were to unify homosexuals, educate them, provide leadership, and assist “sexual deviants” [not my words] with legal troubles.
Like all Communist Parties around the world, the U.S. party claimed to uphold the tradition of the October Revolution in Russia. One of the early measures of the Bolsheviks had been to end the criminalization of gay people. But by the 1930s, the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy had resulted in the resumption of virulent anti-gay policies both in the Soviet Union and world Communist Parties that exist to this day.
In this environment, determined to pursue his project, Hay asked to be expelled from the CPUSA. In view of his long service, the party declined his request. Together with a small group of collaborators including other former CPUSA members, Hay launched the Mattachine Society (MS) in 1950. This took its name from a mysterious group of anti-establishment musicians in the Middle-Ages, who only appeared in public in masks, and were possibly homosexual.
The social repression of the 1950s resulted in a cultural revolution in Greenwich Village. A cohort of poets, later named the “Beat” poets [the 1960s super-pop group, the Beatles, spelled their name thusly to honor the influence of the beat poets upon their music], wrote about the evils of the social organization at the time, glorifying anarchy, drugs, and hedonistic pleasures over unquestioning social compliance, consumerism, and closed mindedness. Of them, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs—both Greenwich Village residents—also wrote bluntly and honestly about homosexuality. Their writings attracted sympathetic libertarian-minded people, as well as homosexuals looking for a community.
Facing enormous opposition to its radical approach, in 1953 the Mattachine shifted their focus to assimilation and respectability. They reasoned that they would change more minds about homosexuality by proving that gays and lesbians were normal people, no different from heterosexuals. Soon after, several women in San Francisco met in their living rooms to form the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) for lesbians. Although the eight women who created the DOB initially came together to be able to have a safe place to dance, as the DOB grew they developed similar goals to the Mattachine, and urged their members to assimilate into general society.
One of the first challenges to government repression came in 1953. An organization named ONE, Inc. published a magazine called ONE. The U.S. Postal Service refused to mail its August issue, which concerned homosexuals in heterosexual marriages, on the grounds that the material was obscene despite it being covered in brown paper wrapping. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, which in 1958 ruled that ONE, Inc. could mail its materials through the Postal Service.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local police departments kept lists of known homosexuals, their favored establishments, and friends; the U.S. Post Office kept track of addresses where material pertaining to homosexuality was mailed. State and local governments followed suit: bars catering to homosexuals were shut down, and their customers were arrested and exposed in newspapers. Cities performed “sweeps” to rid neighborhoods, parks, bars, and beaches of gay people. They outlawed the wearing of opposite gender clothes, and universities expelled instructors suspected of being homosexual. Thousands of gay men and women were publicly humiliated, physically harassed, fired, jailed, or institutionalized in mental hospitals. Many lived double lives, keeping their private lives secret from their professional ones.
In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a mental disorder. A large-scale study of homosexuality in 1962 was used to justify inclusion of the disorder as a supposed pathological hidden fear of the opposite sex caused by traumatic parent–child relationships. This view was widely influential in the medical profession. In 1956, however, the psychologist Evelyn Hooker performed a study that compared the happiness and well-adjusted nature of self-identified homosexual men with heterosexual men and found no difference. Her study stunned the medical community and made her a hero to many gay men and lesbians, but homosexuality remained in the DSM until 1973.
By the early 1960s, a campaign to rid New York City of gay bars was in full effect by order of Democrat Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., who was concerned about the image of the city in preparation for the 1964 World’s Fair. The city revoked the liquor licenses of the bars, and undercover police officers worked to entrap as many homosexual men as possible. Entrapment usually consisted of an undercover officer who found a man in a bar or public park, engaged him in conversation; if the conversation headed toward the possibility that they might leave together—or the officer bought the man a drink—he was arrested for solicitation. One story in the New York Post described an arrest in a gym locker room, where the officer grabbed his crotch, moaning, and a man who asked him if he was all right was arrested. Few lawyers would defend cases as undesirable as these, and some of those lawyers kicked back their fees to the arresting officer.
The Mattachine Society succeeded in getting newly elected Republican Mayor John Lindsay to end the campaign of police entrapment in New York City. They had a more difficult time with the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA). While no laws prohibited serving homosexuals, courts allowed the SLA discretion in approving and revoking liquor licenses for businesses that might become “disorderly”. Despite the high population of gays and lesbians who called Greenwich Village home, very few places existed, other than bars, where they were able to congregate openly without being harassed or arrested. In 1966 the New York Mattachine held a “sip-in” at a Greenwich Village bar named Julius, which was frequented by gay men, to illustrate the discrimination homosexuals faced.
None of the bars frequented by gays and lesbians were owned by gay people. Almost all of them were owned and controlled by organized crime, who treated the regulars poorly, watered down the liquor, and overcharged for drinks. However, they also paid off police to prevent frequent raids.
Gay Americans in the 1950s and 1960s faced an anti-homosexual legal system not just in New York. Early homophile groups in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favored non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the 1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social movements were active, including the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Counterculture and antiwar demonstrations. These influences, along with the socially liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.
The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, which lasted for three days. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States.
At the time, the Stonewall Inn was owned by the Mafia, specifically by the Genovese family. In 1966, three members of the Mafia invested $3,500 to turn the Stonewall Inn into a gay bar, after it had been a restaurant and a nightclub for heterosexuals. Once a week a police officer would collect envelopes of cash as a payoff; the Stonewall Inn had no liquor license. It had no running water behind the bar—used glasses were run through tubs of water and immediately reused. There were no fire exits, and the toilets overran consistently. Though the bar was not used for prostitution, drug sales and other “cash transactions” took place.
It was the only bar for gay men in New York City where dancing was allowed; dancing was its main draw since its re-opening as a gay club. It catered to an assortment of patrons and was known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of the transgender community, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.
Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn. In the early hours of June 28, a group of gay customers who had grown angry at the harassment by police, took a stand and a riot broke out. This raid was ordered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), who objected that there were no stamps on the liquor bottles, indicating the alcohol was bootlegged. As word spread throughout the city about the demonstration, the customers of the inn were soon joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting “gay power.”
Police reinforcements arrived and beat the crowd away, but the next night, the crowd returned, even larger than the night before, with numbers reaching over one thousand. For hours, protesters rioted outside the Stonewall Inn until the police sent a riot-control squad to disperse the crowd. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.
There is convincing evidence indicating that the Mafia owners of the Stonewall and the manager were blackmailing wealthier customers, particularly those who worked in the nearby Financial District. They appeared to be making more money from extortion than they were from liquor sales in the bar. It is thought that when the police were unable to receive kickbacks from blackmail and the theft of negotiable bonds (facilitated by pressuring gay Wall Street customers), they decided to close the Stonewall Inn permanently.
After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, race, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities. Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark the Stonewall riots.
In an interesting side-note: The UpStairs Lounge arson attack took place on June 24, 1973 at a gay bar located on the second floor of the three-story building at 141 Chartres Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. Thirty-two people died as a result of fire or smoke inhalation. The official cause is still listed as “undetermined origin. The most likely suspect, a gay man who had been thrown out of the bar earlier in the day, was never charged.
It was the deadliest arson attack in New Orleans and the deadliest attack on LGBTQ people in United States history. The reaction by the city and media following the attack was indifferent. Those seeking burial services for the dead were turned away by many churches, and several families refused to come forward to claim victims’ bodies out of shame. While most news outlets ignored the story, mentions of the incident in editorials and talk radio made light of the tragedy, mocking the victims because of their sexual orientation.
On January 8, 1978, Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist, made national news when he was sworn in as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Running against 16 other candidates, he won the election by 30 percent. Milk began his term by sponsoring a civil rights bill that outlawed sexual orientation discrimination. Only one supervisor voted against it and Mayor George Moscone signed it into law.
Later on that year, John Briggs dropped out of the California governor’s race, but received support for Proposition 6, also known as the Briggs Initiative, a proposal to fire any teacher or school employee who publicly supported gay rights. Harvey Milk campaigned against the bill and attended every event hosted by Briggs. In the summer, attendance greatly increased at Gay Pride marches in San Francisco and Los Angeles, partly in response to Briggs. President Jimmy Carter, former Governor Ronald Reagan, and Governor Jerry Brown spoke out against the proposition. On November 7, voters rejected the proposition by more than a million votes.
On November 27, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by Dan White, another San Francisco city supervisor, who had recently resigned and wanted his job back, but was being passed over because he wasn’t the best fit for the liberal leaning Board of Supervisors and the ethnic diversity in White’s district. In 2016, the federal government announced the naming of a new United States Military Transport ship in honor of Harvey Milk.
In 1979, about 75,000 people participated in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Washington, D.C., in October. It was the largest political gathering in support of LGBTQ rights to date.
At the 1980 Democratic National Convention held at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the Democrat Party took a stance supporting gay rights, adding the following to their plank: “All groups must be protected from discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, language, age, sex or sexual orientation.”
In 1993, a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was instituted for the U.S. military, permitting gays to serve in the military but banning homosexual activity. President Clinton’s original intention to revoke the prohibition against gays in the military was met with stiff opposition; this compromise, adjusted a policy which has led to the discharge of thousands of men and women in the armed forces, was the result.
On April 25, 1993, an estimated 800,000 to one million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Equal Rights and Liberation. Several events such as art and history exhibits, public service outings and workshops were held throughout Washington, DC leading up the event. The march was a response to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, Amendment 2 in Colorado, as well as rising hate crimes and ongoing discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
In 1996, in Romer v. Evans, the Supreme Court struck down Colorado’s Amendment 2, which denied gays and lesbians protections against discrimination, calling them “special rights?” According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, “We find nothing special in the protections Amendment 2 withholds. These protections . . . constitute ordinary civil life in a free society.”
In 2000, Vermont became the first state in the country to legally recognize civil unions between gay or lesbian couples. The law states that these “couples would be entitled to the same benefits, privileges, and responsibilities as spouses.” It stops short of referring to same-sex unions as marriage, which the state of Vermont defines as heterosexual.
In 2003, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that sodomy laws in the U.S. are unconstitutional. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.”
In November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that barring gays and lesbians from marrying violates the state constitution. The Massachusetts Chief Justice concluded that to “deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage” to gay couples was unconstitutional because it denied “the dignity and equality of all individuals” and made them “second-class citizens.” Strong opposition followed the ruling.
On May 17, 2004, same-sex civil-marriages became legal in Massachusetts. The Chief Justice did not explain where the term “civil marriage” originated because the legal term for the idea of a same-sex, family-style arrangement heretofore was “civil-union”.
Why is this discussion important for America? There are several key reasons that bring this issue to the forefront when talking about the current challenges to the historic strength of the American culture.
To begin, it is not right, fair, constitutional or the desire of the vast majority of the American people to deny any person equal protection under the law. It is also not right, fair, constitutional or the desire of the vast majority of the American people to enact laws that are destructive of the American culture – one that has thrived under a Constitution written from the Judeo-Christian perspective by representatives of the People – for whom faith in an infinitely wise Creator was a core belief – for a people who had, in large part, come to America to freely practice their Judeo-Christian faith while assimiating into the American culture, i.e. becoming Americans.
We, as a people, have had intimate experience with laws that have been destructive of the American culture and have led to civil war, a century of untold pain and suffering – even holocaust. Dred Scott, Plessey and Roe come easily to mind. Some statutes written and court decisions rendered on the issue of gay rights over the past few decades are, at the least, detrimental to the Judeo-Christian culture that has been central to the American experience – as discussed earlier in the section on Progressives.
We begin with a progressive/liberal contradiction. Why must people of faith accept the gay belief system in the public arena while progressives/liberals do not have to accept the Judeo-Christian belief system in the same arena? Need an example? Try the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in New York City. Gay rights activists insist that overtly homosexual groups must be allowed to march in the parade while celebrating their lifestyle while, apparently, the Catholic Church – the spiritual and financial sponsor of the event – has no say in what the nature of the parade shall be. With apologies to George Orwell, apparently some politically favored people “are more equal than others”.
The primary reason that this is an issue of import is that it goes to the very heart of the Constitutional guarantee of liberty and freedom for all citizens under the law. When laws are passed, enforced and ruled on by the courts that single out one group – a faction in Madisonian/ Jeffersonian terms – for privilege or sanction, then all other citizens are reduced in stature (made unequal). How? Because laws need to apply to each and every citizen or the “all men are created equal” clause in the Declaration (with respect to the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness) is meaningless.
For example, in Plessey, former slaves (now citizens) were denied equality under “Jim Crow” laws because of their ethnicity while in Roe, unborn human beings were denied the very right to live because of their dependent status. These human beings were sanctioned and we can all see how well that turned out. For contrast, a myriad of laws singles out members of Congress for exception – in tax law, the new universal health care law – even laws against slander. We all know how well that works.
In Brown v. Board of Ed, all minority school children in America were guaranteed equality – in this case – the same opportunity for a quality public education. It was only when, in the “busing” controversy, the Boston courts decided to treat white families differently than black families for purposes of “diversity” in student bodies (no pun intended), that this opportunity was lost – perhaps forever – because of “white flight” to newly created private schools – all across the country – to avoid forced busing. We have seen how well that went.
Now comes the “Gordian Knot” – or the atomic bomb, if you will – of the gay rights agenda – gay “marriage”. Why is this such a significant issue for each side in the debate? For the gay community, gay “marriage” signifies that “gay” is equivalent to “straight” (the modern euphemism for traditional sexual union – one man – one woman). For the Judeo-Christian community, gay “marriage” strikes at the very heart of the faith – a faith built upon the family – father, mother, children – from Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac to the Christian Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and their son Jesus, the Christ.
Preservation of the species is the prime instinct for all life and mechanisms for that task are as varied and universal as life itself. Defective or non-adaptive mechanisms for the perpetuation of the species result in extinction. Over the course of our existence as human beings, we have developed the most efficient and effective means to preserve our species and that is the nuclear family.
Since, at least from the beginning of human civilization when congregations of people put down roots in a specific location, the nuclear family has been the central organizing principle. For all of the reasons that we can envision, parents bearing and rearing their own children in the culture of the community has been the single most important factor in the success of our species. The bond between parents and their own children is the strongest emotional connection human beings have for anything on this good earth.
The centrality of faith in marriage in my next post.