“Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America ” by Martin Duberman— The Definitive Account

Duberman, Martin. “Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America ”,  Plume; Reprint edition , 2019.

The Definitive Account

Amos Lassen

It is the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall this year and as we might have expected, we have many new books published this year. We also have the reprinting of the definitive account of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay rights march, and the LGBTQ activists at the center of the movement by Martin Duberman. While all of the books about Stonewall are fascinating, this is the one that outshines them all. 
On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, was raided by police. But instead of responding with typical compliance that the NYPD expected, patrons and a growing crowd decided to fight back. The five days of rioting that followed forever changed the face of gay and lesbian life.

Historian and activist Martin Duberman tells the full story of this l moment in history and he does so with “riveting narrative skill [as] he re-creates those revolutionary, sweltering nights in vivid detail through the lives of six people who were drawn into the struggle for LGBTQ rights.” Together, these six stories come together to give us an unforgettable portrait of the repression that led up to the riots to the culmination when the LGBT community and these six individuals  triumphantly participated in the first gay rights march of 1970, the roots of today’s pride marches. 

What makes Duberman’s book so fascinating, I believe, is that we feel the human touch of those involved and we see how what they did  still profoundly affects life today. He shows that Stonewall marked a generational, organizational, and ideological shift that brought gay liberation into the world of social protest. He also
“chronicles how long and tortuous the road to Stonewall actually was.”

The six people that Duberman focuses on are Yvonne a black lesbian; Ray a transvestite; Foster a conservative upper-class man; Karla a militant lesbian; Jim an actor and Yippie leader and Craig a teenage radical. They share their insights about growing up gay in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. There were many gay organizations before Stonewall happened and the book chronicles every single one of them in detail. There are many characters and groups and Duberman shares them all with us. His writing about the actual riots is profound. great and spares no details. We read about what happened after Stonewall and where all the six characters are.

Duberman states that he wanted to place Stonewall along a timeline of events instead of the Stonewall Inn demonstrations being the launching point of gay civil rights history and he does all this within a narrative framework of “novelistic immediacy”. As the book heads into the 60’s, the emotions and political upheaval of the times arrives in the narrative and we begin to really feel the events that came together that set off the Stonewall riots

For those born after Stonewall, this is an important look at the beginnings of the gay civil rights movement and the people who helped ignite it. For those children of us who were alive in the 60’s and 70’s, Duberman brings back memories of a time in our lives where everything was possible and it all began to change.

Leave a Reply