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
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