“Stonewall” by Martin Duberman— The Birth of Gay Liberation


Duberman, Martin Bauml. “Stonewall”, Plume, 1994, Open Road Integrated Media, EBook, 2013.

The Birth of Gay Liberation

Amos Lassen

Stonewall, the word, has come to mean for us the birth of gay liberation but it is also representative of the last decade of 1960s as well as the riot at the Stonewall Inn, the bar in Greenwich village that set off the riots that were to change the world. Martin Duberman, the leading historian of our movement looks at Stonewall by using six people—two lesbians, three gay men and a transvestite whose lives came together at the Stonewall Inn that night and became part of the movement that was born there. We see the divisions between gay men and lesbians here, male chauvinists against feminists and whites vs. blacks and we realize that there were schisms within the revolt. Nevertheless this was the watershed moment in LGBT history that changed the way we as a gay community see ourselves and how others would come to see us. The dates June 27 through July 2, 1969 have gone down in history as one of the most important times is our existence. Duberman also shows “the diversity of the protagonists’ backgrounds–black, Hispanic, WASP, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Christian Scientist [that]underscores the commonality of the homosexual experience and of gay reactions to legalized intolerance of homosexuality”.

Duberman gives us a look at America at the time and the opposition that was characteristic of the pre-Stonewall LGBT organizations that were responsible for the groundwork so that the riots could happen and the opposing ideas in those groups—something we do not usually see.

Duberman points out that the uprising that erupted outside the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village was a spontaneous expression of gay frustration, as well as a refusal to put up with the police harassment that was a commonplace of gay life during the 1960’s. It’s uncertain who first lashed back at police manhandling when the bar was raided. The Stonewall itself- -grubby, Mafia-run, overpriced–was an unlikely candidate for historic landmark status. Duberman argues that the management, by paying off police officials, had been warned about earlier raids but that this time, federal agents–aware of the police bribes and informed that the liquor served at the bar was bootlegged or hijacked–conducted the raid suddenly and unexpectedly. And so it was that police corruption indirectly contributed to the emergence of gay liberation”.

The Stonewall Inn, like so many other gay bars at that time was operated by the Mafia and was only able to stay open because of pay-offs to NYPD even though homosexuals were “criminals” and the bar was often raided and arrests were made (of both customers and staff). BUT THEN…what was considered an easily managed group of people had had enough and what should have been an easy confrontation moved into the street outside and soon became a riot that continued for several days. The media basically ignored it but the LGBT community became more or more activist and decided that the time had come to end discrimination. Duberman is very clever in his treatment of the riots and does not even mention them until almost 200 pages into the book of 282 pages and then they are only covered in 20 pages.

What Duberman does is put the riots in the context of American history so he really writes about the movements and the people who gave rise to the event (the six notables—Yvonne Flowers, Jim Fouratt, Foster Gunnison Jr., Karla Kay, Sylvia Ray Rivera, and Craig Rodwell). He provides the story of each and brings them together and shows how each of them fit into what was happening. He then uses the history to give an overall view of both pre and post Stonewall and the effects of each on lives.

Homosexuality was a polarizing subject back then and it still is but to a much different degree and I would never have dreamed that I would live to see the way things have changed. But even today as there seems to be an enormous backlash by the Christian Right to attack the rights of people to be attracted to anyone, or to just be anyone and to have access to all that others have. After Stonewall there was a beginning of change, before even the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. Stonewall should be read by anyone who believes in the right of anyone to struggle for a better life for themselves and those they care about. This is its importance and Duberman shows that to us beautifully.




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