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Stonewall
revisited

Stonewall
revisited

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In the 1960s I had to sneak out of Brooklyn to come to the bars. Nobody at home knew I was a homosexual, because in those days everybody would beat you up. But in Greenwich Village there were bars where you could drink and dance with other gays. To get into the Stonewall Bar you had to knock on the door, and a guy would look out through a porthole to make sure you weren't a cop. Back then, raids were common. You could get arrested for dancing. If you stood on the corner with another man for more than five minutes, you'd get hit in the legs with a nightstick by a cop saying, "Move on, girls," or you'd get arrested for congregating. We often spent nights in jail. The night of June 27, 1969, I was working at Mama's Chicken Room, a little coffee shop around the corner from the Stonewall. That night police raided the bar. People came running over to Mama's, saying, "It's a madhouse over there. It's a riot." So we went over and joined the crowd. The police were inside the bar, while everyone outside was rioting, throwing things, trying to break inside. They broke the painted-black windows. They broke through the plywood wall behind that. Two "queens" pulled a parking meter out of the ground, concrete and all, and used it as a battering ram to knock down the front door. The cops tried to arrest me and a few other people, but the lock on the paddy wagon wasn't quite locked and we were able to get it open and everyone inside got out and ran. The riot got bigger. The gays started lighting fires in garbage cans and throwing them in the bar while the police were still inside. Eventually, a busload of cops with riot gear arrived. They ran through the crowd, cracking skulls, breaking arms and legs. My friends and I ran back to Mama's to hide out. Some of the straight people in the neighborhood allowed gays to hide in their clubs or stores or homes. Everybody wound up at Washington Square Park, bleeding, trying to patch one another up. That riot was the first time we really rose up against people who wanted to keep us in chains. After that, Mayor Lindsay told the police to get out of the Village and ended the laws that allowed police to entrap gays. The first gay parade was a year later. We marched up 6th Avenue, taking up one lane of traffic, everyone calling us names, even the cops. The second parade had a few more people, and the third a few more. It could have ended with the riots, but there were some people who kept reminding us that we got our rights, so let's fight for more. Let's have a parade, or a fund-raiser. So you see, Savannah, some of us were involved from day one, and some people are just getting involved now. I'm 66 now and I've worked as a bartender at various bars on the same Greenwich Village block for 30 years. They hired me at Stonewall seven years ago so that I could tell this story to customers who want to know. It's important for young gays and lesbians like you to know the roots of the movement, especially because we still have a long way to go. --as told to Savannah Dooley, 19

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