Craig Rodwell—like Leo Laurence in San Francisco—wanted militant activism to be the touchstone of New York's homophile movement. He was thoroughly fed up with Dick Leitsch's controlling influence over Mattachine, for if Leitsch had once been a militant, he was now, in Craig's view, interested solely in the advancement of Leitsch. He had become a mere politician, concerned more with protecting and inflating his own role as the broker between gays and the city administration than with empowering gays themselves, through confrontational action, to build a proud, assertive movement.
Craig was also fed up with the gay bar scene in New York— with Mafia control over the only public space most gays could claim, with the contempt shown the gay clientele, with the speakeasy, clandestine atmosphere, the watered, overpriced drinks, the police payoffs and raids. His anger was compounded by tales he heard from his friend Dawn Hampton, a torch singer who, between engagements, worked the hatcheck at a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. Because Dawn was straight, the Mafia men who ran Stonewall talked freely in front of her—talked about their hatred for the ”faggot scumbags” who made their fortunes.
Indeed, the Stonewall Inn, at 53 Christopher Street, epitomized for Craig everything that was wrong with the bar scene. When a hepatitis epidemic broke out among gay men early in 1969, Craig printed an angry article in his newsletter, New York Hymnal, blaming the epidemic on the unsterile drinking glasses at the Stonewall Inn. And he was probably right. Stonewall had no running water behind the bar; a returned glass was simply run through one of two stagnant vats of water kept underneath the bar, refilled, and then served to the next customer. By the end of an evening the water was murky and multicolored.
Craig also thought Stonewall was a haven for ”chicken hawks” —adult males who coveted underage boys. Jim Fouratt shared that view. He characterized Stonewall as ”a real dive, an awful, sleazy place set up by the Mob for hustlers, chickens to be bought by older people.” But this was, at most, a partial view. One segment of Stonewall's varied clientele did consist of street queens who hustled; but even for that contingent Stonewall was primarily a social, not a business place. Some sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds did frequent Stonewall, and were admitted with the friendly complicity of somebody at the door (the drinking age was then eighteen)—but not for purposes of prostitution. As in any club, of course, the occasional cash transaction undoubtedly took place.
Figuring prominently in Craig and Jim's scenario is the figure of Ed Murphy, one of the bouncer-doormen at the Stonewall Inn, whom they accuse of purveying drugs and young flesh there. The indictment, though overdrawn, has some substance. Murphy did deal drugs, did lech after teenagers, did make ”introductions” (for which he accepted ”tips”), and was involved in corruption, simultaneously taking payoffs from the Mafia and the New York Police Department. (That is, until the police badly beat him up one night, and he stopped informing for them.)
Sascha L., who in 1969 briefly worked the door at Stonewall alongside Murphy, began by thinking of him as a father figure— posing as a cop, Murphy had once rescued Sascha from an angry John wanting more than Sascha had been willing to give—but finally decided that Murphy was a run-of-the-mill crook. Sascha was eyewitness one night to an underage boy named Tommy turning over to Murphy, in the Stonewall basement, a bag of wallets stolen during the evening.
But Murphy and the Stonewall Inn had many defenders. Murphy had been employed in gay bars and after-hours places since 1946 and in the course of that long career had made—along with detractors and enemies—some staunch friends. (Indeed, in later years the Christopher Street Heritage of Pride Committee would canonize Murphy as an originating saint of the gay movement.) And as for the Stonewall Inn, it had, in the course of its two-and-a-half-year existence, become, the most popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. Many saw it as an oasis, a safe retreat from the harassment of everyday life, a place less susceptible to police raids than other gay bars and one that drew a magical mix of patrons ranging from tweedy East Siders to street queens. It was also the only gay male bar in New York where dancing was permitted.
Sylvia Rivera was among the staunchest defenders of Stonewall, and of its omnipresent bouncer Ed Murphy. When down on their luck, which was often, Sylvia and her street-queen friends always knew they could turn to Murphy for a handout. Some of them called him Papa Murphy, and Sylvia's friend Ivan Valentin seems to have been his special favorite. ”To me,” Ivan says, ”Ed Murphy never did anything wrong.” Murphy had a soft spot in general for hispanics like Ivan, and also for blacks; indeed, later gay bar owners who employed Murphy would worry that he would ”turn the club black” and—since racism has always been alive and well in the gay world—frighten off the white clientele.
But though Sylvia and her friends enjoyed going to Stonewall, their bars of choice were in fact Washington Square, on Broadway and Third Street and, to a lesser extent, the Gold Bug and the Tenth of Always (an after-after-hours place that catered to all possible variations of illicit life and stayed open so late it converted by nine a.m. into a regular working-class bar). The Washington Square was owned by the Joe Gallo family, which also controlled Tony Pastor's and the Purple Onion (whereas the Genovese family operated Stonewall, Tele-Star, the Tenth of Always, the Bon Soir on Eighth Street, and—run by Anna Genovese—the Eighty-Two Club in the East Village, which featured drag shows for an audience largely composed of straight tourists). Washington Square was Sylvia's special favorite. It opened at three in the morning and catered primarily (rather than incidentally, as was the case with Stonewall) to transvestites; the more upscale ones would arrive in limos with their wealthy Johns and spend the evening ostentatiously drinking champagne. But others, like Sylvia, went there for relaxing nightcaps and gossip after a hard evening of hustling on the streets.
The Mob usually provided only a limited amount of money to Family members interested in opening a club; it thereafter became the individual's responsibility to turn a profit. That meant, among other things, not investing too heavily in liquor. When Washington Square first opened, the Mafia members who ran the place lost twelve cases of liquor and fifty cases of beer during the first police raid. Thereafter, only a few bottles were kept in the club and the rest of the liquor was stored in a nearby car; when the bartender was about to run out, someone would go around the corner to the parked car, put a few bottles under his arm, and return to the club. (Other bars had different strategies, such as keeping the liquor hidden behind a panel in the wall.) By thus preventing the police from confiscating large amounts of liquor during any one of their commonplace raids, it was possible—and also commonplace—to open up again for business the next day.
The Stonewall Inn had, in its varied incarnations during the fifties, been a straight restaurant and a straight nightclub. In 1966 it was taken over by three Mafia figures who had grown up together on Mulberry Street in Little Italy: ”Mario” (the best-liked of the three), Zucchi, who also dealt in firecrackers, and ”Fat Tony” Lauria, who weighed in at 420 pounds. Together they put up $3,500 to reopen the Stonewall as a gay club; Fat Tony put up $2,000, which made him the controlling partner, but Mario served as Stonewall's manager and ran the place on a day-to-day basis.
Tony Lauria was the best-connected of the three. He had gotten a B.A. at Xavier, had married and divorced, and lived at 136 Waverly Place, a Mob-owned apartment building. It was home to a host of related Mafia figures involved in assorted rackets: vending machines, carting companies, and sanitation. Tony's two uncles and his father also lived in the building; the latter (whose other son was a stockbroker) was high up in Mob circles and sat on the board of the Bank of Commerce on Delancey Street, a bank that laundered a fair share of Mafia money. Lauria Senior did not approve of his wayward son's penchant for hanging around street mobsters and getting involved in the ”fag bar” scene.
Fat Tony lived from 1966 to 1971 with Chuck Shaheen, an openly gay man in his mid-twenties of Italian descent. The relationship was secretarial, not erotic. Shaheen acted as a man Friday, serving at different times as everything from a Stonewall bartender to the trusted go-between who ”picked up the banks”—the accumulated cash—at the bar several times a night and carried the money home to his boss. According to Shaheen, Tony developed a heavy methamphetamine habit, shooting the crystal several times a day into his veins. Under the drug's influence, Tony lost about two hundred pounds, stayed up all night at clubs (at Stonewall, his favorite hangout, he would embarrass his partners by insistently doing parlor tricks, like twirling cigarettes in the air), and began, for the first time in his life, to go to bed with men—though, to Shaheen's relief, not with him. Tony's father stopped speaking to him altogether and Shaheen had to carry messages between them. Increasingly shunned, Tony, so the rumor mill had it, was later killed by the Family.
Tony and his partners, Mario and Zucchi, had opened Stonewall as a private ”bottle club.” That was a common ruse for getting around the lack of a liquor license; bottles would be labeled with fictitious names and the bar would then—contrary to a law forbidding bottle clubs from selling drinks—proceed to do a cash business just like any other bar. The three partners spent less than a thousand dollars in fixing up the club's interior. They settled for a third-rate sound system, hired a local electrician and his assistant to build a bar and raise the dance-floor stage, and got their jukebox and cigarette machines— had to get them—from the local don, Matty ”the Horse” Iannello.
As the man w ho controlled the district in which Stonewall was located, Iannello was automatically entitled to a cut in the operation. Shaheen never once saw Iannello in Stonewall, nor did he ever meet him, but Matty the Horse got his percentage like clockwork. The Stonewall partners also had to pay off the notoriously corrupt Sixth Precinct. A patrolman would stop by Stonewall once a week to pick up the envelopes filled with cash—including those for the captains and desk sergeants, who never collected their payoffs in person. The total cash dispensed to the police each week came to about two thousand dollars.
Despite the assorted payoffs, Stonewall turned a huge weekly profit for its owners. With rent at only three hundred dollars a month, and with the take (all in cash) typically running to five thousand dollars on a Friday night and sixty-five hundred on a Saturday, Stonewall quickly became a money machine. Some of the profit was made through side gigs for which Stonewall as a place was merely the occasion. In Shaheen's words, ”all kinds of mobsters used to come in. There were all kinds of deals going on. All kinds of hot merchandise. They would deal the stuff out of the trunks of cars parked in front of the bar. You could buy all kinds of things at Stonewall.” Shaheen recalls vividly the time a Cuban couple was swindled out of a clay plate with multicarat diamonds hidden under the glaze; they had taken the plate with them when fleeing Castro. Fat Tony had a ring made from one of the bigger (five-carat) stones and, when he later fell on hard times, had Shaheen negotiate its sale to Cartier.
Some of the Mob members who worked gay clubs were themselves gay—and terrified of being found out. ”Big Bobby,” who was on the door at Tony Pastor's, a Mafia-run place at Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street, almost blew his cover when he became indiscreet about his passion for a Chinese drag queen named Tony Lee (who, though going lamentably to fat, was famed for her ballerina act). The Stonewall Inn seems to have had more than the usual number of gay mobsters. ”Petey,” who hung out at Stonewall as a kind of free-lance, circulating bouncer, had a thick Italian street accent, acted ”dumb,” and favored black shirts and ties; he was the very picture of a Mafia mobster—except for his habit of falling for patrons and coworkers.
He took a shine to Sascha L., but they would have sex only when Petey was drunk, and no mention could be made of it afterward. Some of the other mobsters would take Sascha aside and question him—Sascha was openly gay—about whether Petey ”didn't seem a little funny.” Sascha would dutifully answer no, and as a reward—and perhaps, too, because his presence made Petey nervous—Petey got Sascha a better-paying job at Washington Square.
Petey turned his attentions to a drag queen named Desiree, apparently figuring that if he were caught, getting a blow job from a drag queen would be far more forgivable than giving a blow job to a stocky male doorman. Besides, Desiree was Italian. A beautiful boy with shoulder-length hair and huge amber eyes, she had a figure so stunningly ”feminine” that she passed as a woman—as a gorgeous woman—in broad daylight.
But even the beautiful Desiree was outclassed by blond Harlow. (Petey had developed a huge lech for Harlow, too, but he couldn't get near her.) Harlow rarely came to Stonewall, preferring a tonier, straight uptown scene, but when she did, her chic black dresses and real jewelry set the standard for aspiring queens on the Washington Square-Stonewall circuit. Harlow never had the luck to catch Andy Warhol's eye, and so never achieved the widespread notoriety of Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, and Candy Darling, who made it into Warhol's movies and were thereby elevated into mainstream New York stardom. But Harlow—at least according to drag-queen mythology—later achieved her own kind of stardom, purportedly marrying a congressman, getting a sex-change operation at his expense, and buying (again courtesy of the congressman) a club in Philadelphia.
As for Desiree, she and Petey eventually ran off together to live outside of New York as a heterosexual couple. But—again according to the rumor mill—theirs was not a storybook ending: Petey subsequently turned ”bad” and, in a fit of jealousy, shot and killed Desiree.
Most of the employees at Stonewall, and some of the customers, did drugs, primarily ”uppers.” Desbutal—a mix of Desoxyn and Nembutal—was a great favorite (though later banned by the FDA), and the bar was also known as a good place to buy acid. The chief supplier was Maggie Jiggs, a famous queen who worked the main bar at Stonewall, along with her partner. Tommy Long. (Tommy kept a toy duck on the bar that quacked whenever someone left a tip.) They were a well-known team with a big following. Maggie, blonde, chubby, and loud, knew everybody's business and would think nothing of yelling out in the middle of the crowded bar, ”Hey, girl, I hear you got a whole new plate of false teeth from that fabulous dentist you been fucking!” But Maggie loved people, had good drugs, was always surrounded by gorgeous men, and arranged wonderful threeways, so her outspokenness, and even her occasional thievery, were usually forgiven.
Maggie and Tommy were stationed behind the main bar, one of two bars in the Stonewall. But before you could get to it, you had to pass muster at the door (a ritual some of the customers welcomed as a relief from the lax security that characterized most gay bars). That usually meant inspection, through a peephole in the heavy front door by Ed Murphy, ”Bobby Shades,” or muscular Frank Esselourne. ”Blond Frankie,” as he was known, was gay, but in those years not advertising it, and was famous for being able to spot straights or undercover cops with a single glance.
If you got the okay at the door—and for underage street kids that was always problematic—you moved a few steps to a table, usually covered by members of what one wag called the Junior Achievement Mafia team. That could mean, on different nights, Zucchi; Mario; Ernie Sgroi, who always wore a suit and tie and whose father had started the famed Bon Soir on Eighth Street; ”Vito,” who was on salary directly from Fat Tony, was hugely proud of his personal collection of S.S. uniforms and Nazi flags, and made bombs on the side; or ”Tony the Sniff” Verra, who had a legendary nose for no-goods and kept a baseball bat behind the door to deal with them. At the table, you had to plunk down three dollars (one dollar on weekdays), for which you got two tickets that could be exchanged for two watered-down drinks. (According to Chuck Shaheen, all drinks were watered, even those carrying the fanciest labels.) You then signed your name in a book kept to prove, should the question arise in court, that Stonewall was indeed a private ”bottle club.” People rarely signed their real names. ”Judy Garland,” ”Donald Duck,” and ”Elizabeth Taylor” were the popular favorites.
Once inside Stonewall, you took a step down and straight in front of you was the main bar where Maggie held court. Behind the bar some pulsating gel lights went on and off—later exaggeratedly claimed by some to be the precursor of the innovative light shows at the Sanctuary and other gay discos that followed. On weekends, a scantily clad go-go boy with a pin spot on him danced in a gilded cage on top of the bar. Straight ahead, beyond the bar, was a spacious dancing area, at one point in the bar's history lit only with black lights. That in itself became a subject for camp, because the queens, with Murine in their eyes, all looked as if they had white streaks running down their faces. Should the police (known as Lily Law, Alice Blue Gown—Alice for short—or Betty Badge) or a suspected plainclothesman unexpectedly arrive, white bulbs instantly came on in the dance area, signaling everyone to stop dancing or touching.
The queens rarely hung out at the main bar. There was another, smaller room off to one side, with a stone wishing well in the middle, its own jukebox and service bar, and booths. That became headquarters for the more flamboyant contingent in Stonewall's melting pot of customers. There were the ”scare drag queens” like Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, Birdie Rivera, and Martin Boyce—”boys who looked like girls but who you knew were boys.” And there were the ”flame” (not drag) queens who wore eye makeup and teased hair, but essentially dressed in male clothes—if an effeminate version with fluffy sweaters and Tom Jones shirts.
Only a few favored full-time transvestites, like Tiffany, Spanola Jerry, a hairdresser from Sheepshead Bay, and Tammy Novak, who performed at the Eighty-Two Club, were allowed to enter Stonewall in drag (Tammy sometimes transgressed by dressing as a boy). Not even ”Tish” (Joe Tish) would be admitted, though he had been a well-known drag performer since the early fifties, when he had worked at the Moroccan Village on Eighth Street, and though in the late sixties he had a long-running show at the Crazy Horse, a nearby cafe on Bleecker Street. Tish was admitted into some uptown straight clubs in full drag; there, as he sniffily put it, his ”artistry” was recognized.
Some of the younger queens were homeless and more or less camped out in the small park directly opposite the Stonewall bar. Bob Kohler, a gay man in his early forties who lived nearby, became something of a protector. (Kohler would later be prominent in the Gay Liberation Front, but had long since developed empathy for outsiders: In the early sixties, his talent agency on West Fifty-seventh Street represented a number of black artists no one else would take on.) Kohler would give the young queens clothing and change, or sometimes pay for a room in a local fleabag hotel; and when out walking his dog, he would often sit on a park bench with them and listen to their troubles and dreams. He was able to hear their pain even as he chuckled at their antics. Once, when he went down to bail out Sylvia Rivera's good friend, Marsha P. Johnson, he heard Judge Bruce Wright ask Marsha what the ”P” was for. ”Pay it no mind,” Marsha snapped back; Judge Wright broke up laughing and told Kohler to “get her out of here.”
Yet for all their wit and style, Kohler never glamorized street queens as heroic deviants pushing against rigid gender categories, self-conscious pioneers of a boundary-free existence. He knew too much about the misery of their lives. He knew a drugged-out queen who fell asleep on a rooftop and lay in the sun so long that she ended up near death with a third-degree burn. He knew ”cross-eyed Cynthia,” killed when she was pushed out of a window of the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn—and another ”Sylvia,” who jumped off its roof. He knew Dusty, ”ugly as sin, never out of drag, very funny, big mouth,” who made the mistake of calling the wrong person ”nigger” and was stabbed to death. And he knew several queens who had themselves stabbed a recalcitrant customer—or a competitive sister.
The queens considered Stonewall and Washington Square the most congenial downtown bars. If they passed muster at the Stonewall door, they could buy or cajole drinks, exchange cosmetics and the favored Tabu or Ambush perfume, admire or deplore somebody's latest Kanecalon wig, make fun of six-foot transsexual Lynn's size-12 women's shoes (while admiring her fishnet stockings and miniskirts and giggling over her tales of servicing the firemen around the corner at their Tenth Street station), move constantly in and out of the ladies room (where they deplored the fact that a single red light bulb made the application of makeup difficult), and dance in a feverish sweat till closing time at four a.m.
The jukebox on the dance floor played a variety of songs, even an occasional ”Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” to appease the romantics. The Motown label was still top of the heap in the summer of 1969; three of the five hit singles for the week of June 28—by Marvin Gaye, Junior Walker, and the Temptations—carried its imprint. On the pop side, the Stonewall jukebox played the love theme from the movie version of Romeo and Juliet over and over, the record's saccharine periodically cut by the Beatles' ”Get Back” or Elvis Presley's ”In the Ghetto.” And all the new dances—the Boston Jerk, the Monkey, the Spider—were tried out with relish. If the crowd was in a particularly campy mood (and the management was feeling loose enough), ten or fifteen dancers would line up to learn the latest ritual steps, beginning with a shouted “Hit it, girls!”
The chino-and-penny-loafer crowd pretty much stayed near the main bar, fraternizing with the queens mostly on the dance floor, if at all. (”Two queens can't bump pussy,” one of them explained. ”And I don't care how beefy and brawny the pussy is. And certainly not for a relationship.”) The age range at Stonewall was mostly late teens to early thirties; the over-thirty-five crowd hung out at Julius', and the leather crowd (then in its infancy) at Keller's. There could also be seen at Stonewall just a sprinkling of the new kind of gay man beginning to emerge: the hippie, long-haired, bell-bottomed, laid-back, and likely to have ”weird,” radical views.
Very few women ever appeared in Stonewall. Sascha L. flatly declares that he can't remember any, except for the occasional ”fag hag” (like Blond Frankie's straight friend Lucille, who lived with the doorman at One-Two-Three and hung out at Stonewall), or ”one or two dykes who looked almost like boys.” But Chuck Shaheen, who spent much more time at Stonewall, remembers—while acknowledging that the bar was ”98 percent male”—a few more lesbian customers than Sascha does, and, of those, a number who were decidedly femme. One of the lesbians who did go to Stonewall ”a few times,” tagging along with some of her gay male friends, recalls that she ”felt like a visitor.” It wasn't as if the male patrons went out of their way to make her feel uncomfortable, but rather that the territory was theirs, not hers: ”There didn't seem to be hostility, but there didn't seem to be camaraderie.”
SYLVIA – JIM - CRAIG
Sylvia Rivera had been invited to Marsha P. Johnson's party on the night of June 27, but she decided not to go. It wasn't that she was mad at Marsha; she simply felt strung out. She had been working as an accounting clerk in a Jersey City chain-store warehouse, keeping tally sheets of what the truckers took out—a good job with a good boss who let her wear makeup whenever she felt like it. But it was an eleven-to-seven shift, Sundays through Thursdays, all-night stints that kept her away from her friends on the street and decidedly short of the cash she had made from hustling.
Yes, she wanted to clean up her act and start leading a ”normal” life. But she hadn't counted on missing the money so much, or on her drug habit persisting—and sixty-seven dollars a week in take-home pay just wasn't doing it. So she and her lover, Gary, decided to piece out their income with a side gig—passing bad checks—and on June 27, a Friday, they had just gotten back from papering Washington, D.C. The first news they heard on returning was about Judy Garland's funeral that very day, how twenty thousand people had waited up to four hours in the blistering heat to view her body at Frank E. Campbell's funeral home on Madison Avenue and Eighty-First Street. The news sent a melodramatic shiver up Sylvia's spine, and she decided to become ”completely hysterical.” ”It's the end of an era,” she tearfully announced. ”The greatest singer, the greatest actress of my childhood is no more. Never again 'Over the Rainbow' ”—here Sylvia sobbed loudly—”no one left to look up to.”
No, she was not going to Marsha's party. She would stay home, light her consoling religious candles (Viejita had taught her that much), and say a few prayers for Judy. But then the phone rang and her buddy Tammy Novak—who sounded more stoned than usual—insisted that Sylvia and Gary join her later that night at Stonewall. Sylvia hesitated. If she was going out at all—”Was it all right to dance with the martyred Judy not cold in her grave?”—she would go to Washington Square. She had never been crazy about Stonewall, she reminded Tammy: Men in makeup were tolerated there, but not exactly cherished. And if she was going to go out, she wanted to vent—to be just as outrageous, as grief-stricken, as makeup would allow. But Tammy absolutely refused to take no for an answer and so Sylvia, moaning theatrically, gave in. She popped a black beauty and she and Gary headed downtown.
Jim's job at CBS required long hours, and he often got back to his apartment (after a stopover at Max's Kansas City) in the early morning. On the night of June 27 he had worked in the office until midnight, had gone for a nightcap at Max's, and about one a.m. had headed back to his apartment in the Village. Passing by the Stonewall Inn—a bar he despised, insistent it was a haven for marauding chicken hawks—Jim noticed a cluster of cops in front of the bar, looking as if they were about to enter. He shrugged it off as just another routine raid, and even found himself hoping that this time (Stonewall had been raided just two weeks before) the police would succeed in closing the joint.
But as Jim got closer, he could see that a small group of onlookers had gathered. That was somewhat surprising, since the first sign of a raid usually led to an immediate scattering; typically, gays fled rather than loitered, and fled as quietly and as quickly as possible, grateful not to be implicated at the scene of the ”crime.” Jim spotted Craig Rodwell at the top of the row of steps leading up to a brownstone adjacent to the Stonewall Inn. Craig looked agitated, expectant. Something was decidedly in the air.
Craig had taken up his position only moments before. Like Jim, he had been on his way home—from playing cards at a friend's—and had stumbled on the gathering crowd in front of the Stonewall. He was with Fred Sargeant, his current lover, and the two of them had scrambled up the brownstone steps to get a better view. The crowd was decidedly small, but what was riveting was its strangely quiet, expectant air, as if awaiting the next development. Just then, the police pushed open the front door of the Stonewall and marched in. Craig' looked at his watch: It was one-twenty a.m.
Sylvia was feeling very little pain. The black beauty had hopped her up and the scotch had smoothed her out. Her lover, Gary, had come along; Tammy, Bambi, and Ivan were there; and rumor had it that Marsha Johnson, disgusted at all the no-shows for her party, was also headed downtown to Stonewall, determined to dance somewhere. It looked like a good night. Sylvia expansively decided she did like Stonewall after all, and was just saying that to Tammy, who looked as if she was about to keel over—”that chile [Tammy was seventeen, Sylvia eighteen] could not control her intake”—when the cops came barreling through the front door. (The white warning lights had earlier started flashing on the dance floor, but Sylvia and her friends had been oblivious.)
The next thing she knew, the cops, with their usual arrogance, were stomping through, ordering the patrons to line up and get their IDs ready for examination. ”Oh my God!” Sylvia shouted at Gary,| ”I didn't bring my ID!” Before she could panic, Gary reached in his pocket and produced her card; he had brought it along. ”Praise be to Saint Barbara!” Sylvia shrieked, snatching the precious ID. If the raid went according to the usual pattern, the only people who would be arrested would be those without IDs, those dressed in the clothes of the opposite gender, and some or all of the employees. Everyone else would be let go with a few shoves and a few contemptuous words. The bar would soon reopen and they would all be back dancing. It was annoying to have one's Friday night screwed up, but hardly unprecedented.
Sylvia tried to take it in stride; she'd been through lots worse, and with her ID in hand and nothing more than face makeup on, she knew the hassling would be minimal. But she was pissed; the good high she had was gone, and her nerve ends felt as raw as when she had been crying over Judy earlier in the evening. She wished she'd gone to the Washington Square, a place she preferred anyway. She was sick of being treated like scum; ”I was just not in the mood” was how she later put it. ”It had got to the point where I didn't want to be bothered anymore.” When one of the cops grabbed the ID out of her hand and asked her with a smirk if she was a boy or a girl, she almost swung at him, but Gary grabbed her hand in time. The cop gave her a shove toward the door, and told her to get the hell out.
Not all of the two hundred or so people who were inside Stonewall fared that well. Chico, a forty-five-year-old patron who looked sixty, was arrested for not having an ID proving he was over 18. Another patron, asked for ”some kind of ID, like a birth certificate,” said to the cop, ”I don't happen to carry mine around with me. Do you have yours, Officer?”; the cop arrested him. Eighteen-year-old Joey Dey had been dancing for a while with a guy in a suit, but had decided he wasn't interested and had tried to get away; the man had insisted they go on dancing and then, just as the police came through the door, pulled out a badge and told him he was under arrest.
Harry Beard, one of the dance-floor waiters, had been coming off a ten-day amphetamine run and was crashed out in one of the side-room booths when the police arrived. He knew that the only way to avoid arrest was to pretend he was a customer, so he grabbed a drink off the bar, crossed his legs provocatively, and tried to act unconcerned. Fortunately for him, he had gone into one of the new unisex shops that very day and was wearing a soft pink blouse with ruffles around the wrist and down the front. One of the cops looked at him quizzically and said, ”I know you. You work here.” Harry was on welfare at the time, so, adopting his nelliest tone, he thrust his welfare card at the cop and replied, ”Work here? Oh, don't be silly! I'm just a poor girl on welfare. Here's my welfare card. Besides, I wouldn't work in a toilet like this!” The cop looked skeptical but told Harry he could leave.
The Stonewall management had always been tipped off by the police before a raid took place—this happened, on average, once a month—and the raid itself was usually staged early enough in the evening to produce minimal commotion and allow for a quick reopening. Indeed, sometimes the ”raid” consisted of little more than the police striding arrogantly through the bar and then leaving, with no arrests made. Given the size of the weekly payoff, the police had an understandable stake in keeping the golden calf alive.
But this raid was different. It was carried out by eight detectives from the First Division (only one of them in uniform), and the Sixth Precinct had been asked to participate only at the last possible second. Moreover, the raid had occurred at one-twenty a.m.—the height of the merriment—and with no advance warning to the Stonewall management. (Chuck Shaheen recalls some vague tip-off that a raid might happen, but since the early-evening hours had passed without incident, the management had dismissed the tip as inaccurate.)”
There have been an abundance of theories as to why the Sixth Precinct failed on this occasion to alert Stonewall's owners. One centers on the possibility that a payment had not been made on time or made at all. Another suggests that the extent of Stonewall's profits had recently become known to the police, and the Sixth Precinct brass had decided, as a prelude to its demand for a larger cut, to flex a little muscle. Yet a third explanation points to the possibility that the new commanding officer at the precinct was out of sympathy with payoffs, or hadn't yet learned how profitable they could be.
But evidence has surfaced to suggest that the machinations of the Sixth Precinct were in fact incidental to the raid. Ryder Fitzgerald, a sometime carpenter who had helped remodel the Stonewall interior and whose friends Willis and Elf (a straight hippie couple) lived rent-free in the apartment above the Stonewall in exchange for performing caretaker chores, was privy the day after the raid to a revealing conversation. Ernie, one of Stonewall’s Mafia team, stormed around Willis and Elf's apartment, cursing out (in Ryder's presence) the Sixth Precinct for having failed to provide warning in time. And in the course of his tirade, Ernie revealed that the raid had been inspired by federal agents. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATE) had apparently discovered that the liquor bottles used at Stonewall had no federal stamps on them—which meant they had been hijacked or bootlegged straight out of the distillery. Putting Stonewall under surveillance, BATE had then discovered the bar's corrupt alliance with the Sixth Precinct. Thus when the feds decided to launch a raid on Stonewall, they deliberately kept the local police in the dark until the unavoidable last minute.
When the raid, contrary to expectations, did get going, the previous systems put in place by the Mafia owners stood them in good stead. The strong front door bought needed time until the white lights had a chance to do their warning work: Patrons instantly stopped dancing and touching; and the bartenders quickly took the money from the cigar boxes that served as cash registers, jumped from behind the bar, and mingled inconspicuously with the customers. Maggie Jiggs, already known for her ”two for the bar, one for myself” approach to cash, disappeared into the crowd with a cigar box full of money; when a cop asked to see the contents, Maggie said it contained her tips as a ”cigarette girl,” and they let her go. When questioned by her employers later, Maggie claimed that the cop had taken the box and the money. She got away with the lie.
The standard Mafia policy of putting gay employees on the door so they could take the heat while everyone else got their act together, also paid off for the owners. Eddie Murphy managed to get out (”Of course,” his detractors add, ”he was on the police payroll”), but Blond Frankie was arrested. There was already a warrant outstanding for Frankie's arrest (purportedly for homicide; he was known for ”acting first and not bothering to think even later”). Realizing that this was no ordinary raid, that this time an arrest might not merely mean detention for a few hours at Centre Street, followed by a quick release, Frankie was determined not to be taken in. Owners Zucchi and Mario, through a back door connected to the office, were soon safely out on the street in front of the Stonewall. So, too, were almost all of the bar's customers, released after their IDs had been checked and their attire deemed ”appropriate” to their gender—a process accompanied, as in Sylvia's case, by derisive, ugly police banter.”
As for ”Fat Tony,” at the time the raid took place he had still not left his apartment on Waverly Place, a few blocks from the Stonewall. Under the spell of methamphetamine, he had already spent three hours combing and recombing his beard and agitatedly changing from one outfit to another, acting for all the world like one of those ”demented queens” he vilified. He and Chuck Shaheen could see the commotion from their apartment window but only after an emergency call from Zucchi could Tony be persuaded to leave the apartment for the bar.
Some of the campier patrons, emerging one by one from the Stonewall to find an unexpected crowd, took the opportunity to strike instant poses, starlet style, while the onlookers whistled and shouted their applause-meter ratings. But when a paddy wagon pulled up, the mood turned more somber. And it turned sullen when the police officers started to emerge from Stonewall with prisoners in tow and moved with them toward the waiting van. Jim Fouratt at the back of the crowd, Sylvia standing with Gary near the small park across the street from Stonewall, and Craig perched on top of the brownstone stairs near the front of the crowd—all sensed something unusual in the air, all felt a kind of tensed expectancy.
The police (two of whom were women) were oblivious to it initially. Everything up to that point had gone so routinely that they expected to see the crowd quickly disperse. Instead, a few people started to boo; others pressed against the waiting van, while the cops standing near it yelled angrily for the crowd to move back. According to Sylvia, ”You could feel the electricity going through people. You could actually feel it. People were getting really, really pissed and uptight.” A guy in a dark red T-shirt danced in and out of the crowd, shouting ”Nobody's gonna fuck with me!” and ”Ain't gonna take this shit!”
As the cops started loading their prisoners into the van—among them, Blond Frankie, the doorman—more people joined in the shouting. Sylvia spotted Tammy Novak among the three queens lined up for the paddy wagon, and along with others in the crowd started yelling ”Tammy! Tammy!,” Sylvia's shriek rising above the rest. But Tammy apparently didn't hear, and Sylvia guessed that she was too stoned to know what was going on. Yet when a cop shoved Tammy and told her to ”keep moving! keep moving!,” poking her with his club, Tammy told him to stop pushing and when he didn't, she started swinging. From that point on, so much happened so quickly as to seem simultaneous.
Jim Fouratt insists that the explosive moment came when ”a dyke dressed in men's clothing,” who had been visiting a male employee inside the bar, started to act up as the cops moved her toward the paddy wagon. According to Jim, ”the queens were acting like queens throwing their change and giving lots of attitude and lip. But the dyke had to be more butch than the queens. So when the police moved her into the wagon, she got out the other side and started to rock it.”
Harry Beard, the Stonewall waiter who had been inside the bar, partly corroborates Jim's account, though differing on the moment of explosion. According to Beard, the cops had arrested the cross-dressed” lesbian inside the bar for not wearing the requisite (as mandated by a New York statute) three pieces of clothing ”appropriate to one's gender.” As they led her out of the bar, so Beard's version goes, she complained that the handcuffs they had put on her were too tight; in response, one of the cops slapped her in the head with his nightstick. Seeing the cops hit her, people standing immediately outside the door started throwing coins at the police.
But Craig Rodwell and a number of other eyewitnesses sharply contest the view that the arrest of a lesbian was the precipitating incident, or even that a lesbian had been present in the bar. And they skeptically ask why, if she did exist, she has never stepped forward to claim the credit; to the answer that she may long since have died, they sardonically reply, ”And she never told another soul? And if she did, why haven't they stepped forward to claim credit for her?” As if all that isn't muddle enough, those eyewitnesses who deny the lesbian claimant, themselves divide over whether to give the palm to a queen—Tammy Novak being the leading candidate—or to one of the many ordinary gay male patrons of the bar. Craig Rodwell's view probably comes as close as we are likely to get to the truth: ”A number of incidents were happening simultaneously. There was no one thing that happened or one person, there was just … a flash of group— of mass—anger.”
As the police, amid a growing crowd and mounting anger, continued to load prisoners into the van, Martin Boyce, an eighteen-year-old scare drag queen, saw a leg in nylons and sporting a high heel shoot out of the back of the paddy wagon into the chest of a cop, throwing him backward. Another queen then opened the door on the side of the wagon and jumped out. The cops chased and caught her, but Blond Frankie quickly managed to engineer another escape from the van; several queens successfully made their way out with him and were swallowed up in the crowd. Tammy Novak was one of them; she ran all the way to Joe Tish's apartment, where she holed up throughout the weekend. The police handcuffed subsequent prisoners to the inside of the van, and succeeded in driving away from the scene to book them at the precinct house. Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, the ranking officer, nervously told the departing police to ”just drop them off at the Sixth Precinct and hurry back.”
From this point on, the mêlée broke out in several directions and swiftly mounted in intensity. The crowd, now in full cry, started screaming epithets at the police—”Pigs!” ”Faggot cops!” Sylvia and Craig enthusiastically joined in, Sylvia shouting her lungs out, Craig letting go with a full-throated ”Gay power!” One young gay Puerto Rican went fearlessly up to a policeman and yelled in his face, ”What you got against faggots? We don't do you nuthin'!” Another teenager started kicking at a cop, frequently missing as the cop held him at arm's length. One queen mashed an officer with her heel, knocked him down, grabbed his handcuff keys, freed herself, and passed the keys to another queen behind her.
By now, the crowd hail swelled to a mob, and people were picking up and throwing whatever loose objects came to hand—coins, bottles, cans, bricks from a nearby construction site. Someone even picked up dog shit from the street and threw it in the cops' direction. As the fever mounted, Zucchi was overheard nervously asking Mario what the hell the crowd was upset about: the Mafia or the police? The police, Mario reassured him. Zucchi gave a big grin of relief and decided to vent some stored-up anger of his own: He egged on bystanders in their effort to rip up a damaged fire hydrant and he persuaded a young kid named Timmy to throw the wire-mesh garbage can nearby. Timmy was not much bigger than the can (and had just come out the week before), but he gave it his all—the can went sailing into the plate-glass window (painted black and reinforced from behind by plywood) that stretched across the front of the Stonewall.
Stunned and frightened by the crowd's unexpected fury, the police, at the order of Deputy Inspector Pine, retreated inside the bar. Pine had been accustomed to two or three cops being able to handle with ease any number of cowering gays, but here the crowd wasn't cowering; it had routed eight cops and made them run for cover. As Pine later said, ”I had been in combat situations, [but] there was never any time that I felt more scared than then.” With the cops holed up inside Stonewall, the crowd was now in control of the street, and it bellowed in triumph and pent-up rage.
Craig dashed to a nearby phone booth. Ever conscious of the need for publicity—for visibility—and realizing that a critical moment had arrived, he called all three daily papers, the Times, the Post, and the News, and alerted them that ”a major news story was breaking.'” Then he ran to his apartment a few blocks away to get his camera.
Jim Fouratt also dashed to the phones—to call his straight radical-left friends, to tell them ”people were fighting the cops—it was just like Newark!” He urged them to rush down and lend their support (just as he had long done for their causes). Then he went into the nearby Ninth Circle and Julius', to try to get the patrons to come out into the street. But none of them would. Nor did any of his straight radical friends show up. It taught Jim a bitter lesson about how low on the scale of priorities his erstwhile comrades ranked ”faggot” concerns.
Gary tried to persuade Sylvia to go home with him to get a change of clothes. ”Are you nuts?” she yelled. ”I'm not missing a minute of this—it's the revolution!” So Gary left to get clothes for both of them. Blond Frankie, meanwhile—perhaps taking his cue from Zucchi—uprooted a loose parking meter and offered it for use as a battering ram against the Stonewall's door. At nearly the same moment somebody started squirting lighter fluid through the shattered glass window on the bar's facade, tossing in matches after it. Inspector Pine later referred to this as ”throwing Molotov cocktails into the place,” but the only reality that described was the inflamed state of Pine's nerves.
Still, the danger was very real, and the police were badly frightened. The shock to self-esteem had been stunning enough; now came an actual threat to physical safety. Dodging flying glass and missiles, Patrolman Gil Weisman, the one cop in uniform, was hit near the eye with a shard, and blood spurted out. With that, the fear turned abruptly to fury. Three of the cops, led by Pine, ran out the front door, which had crashed in from the battering, and started screaming threats at the crowd, thinking to cow it. But instead a rain of coins and bottles came down, and a beer can glanced off Deputy Inspector Charles Smyth's head. Pine lunged into the crowd, grabbed somebody around the waist, pulled him back into the doorway, and then dragged him by the hair, inside.
Ironically, the prisoner was the well-known—and heterosexual —folk singer Dave Van Ronk. Earlier that night Van Ronk had been in and out of the Lion's Head, a bar a few doors down from Stonewall that catered to a noisy, macho journalist crowd scornful of the ”faggots” down the block. Once the riot got going, the Lion's Head locked its doors; the management didn't want faggots moaning and bleeding over the paying customers. As soon as Pine got Van Ronk back into the Stonewall, he angrily accused him of throwing dangerous objects—a cue to Patrolman Weisman to shout that Van Ronk wad the one who had cut his eye, and then to start punching the singer hard while several other cops held him down. When Van Ronk looked as if he was going to pass out, the police handcuffed him, and Pine snapped, ”All right, we book him for assault.”
The cops then found a fire hose, wedged it into a crack in the door, and directed the spray out at the crowd, thinking that would certainly scatter it. But the stream was weak and the crowd howled derisively, while inside the cops started slipping on the wet floor. A reporter from The Village Voice, Howard Smith, had retreated inside the bar when the police did; he later wrote that by that point in the evening ”the sound filtering in [didn't] suggest dancing faggots any more; it sound[ed] like a powerful rage bent on vendetta.” By now the Stonewall's front door was hanging wide open, the plywood brace behind the windows was splintered, and it seemed only a matter of minutes before the howling mob would break in and wreak its vengeance. One cop armed himself with Tony the Sniff's baseball bat; the others drew their guns, and Pine stationed several officers on either side of the corridor leading to the front door. One of them growled, ”We'll shoot the first motherfucker that comes through the door.”
At that moment, an arm reached in through the shattered window, squirted more lighter fluid into the room, and then threw in another lit match. This time the match caught, and there was a whoosh of flame. Standing only ten feet away, Pine aimed his gun at the receding arm and (he later said) was preparing to shoot when he heard the sound of sirens coming down Christopher Street. At two-fiftyfive a.m. Pine had sent out emergency signal 10-41—a call for help to the fearsome Tactical Patrol Force—and relief was now rounding the corner.
The TPF was a highly trained, crack riot-control unit that had been set up to respond to the proliferation of protests against the Vietnam War. Wearing helmets with visors, carrying assorted weapons, including billy clubs and tear gas, its two dozen members all seemed massively proportioned. They were a formidable sight as, linked arm in arm, they came up Christopher Street in a wedge formation that resembled (by design) a Roman legion. In their path, the rioters slowly retreated, but—contrary to police expectations—did not break and run. Craig, for one, knelt down in the middle of the street with the camera he'd retrieved from his apartment and, determined to capture the moment, snapped photo after photo of the oncoming TPF minions.
As the troopers bore down on him, he scampered up and joined the hundreds of others who scattered to avoid the billy clubs but then raced around the block, doubled back behind the troopers, and pelted them with debris. When the cops realized that a considerable crowd had simply re-formed to their rear, they flailed out angrily at anyone who came within striking distance. But the protesters would not be cowed. The pattern repeated itself several times: The TPF would disperse the jeering mob only to have it re-form behind them, yelling taunts, tossing bottles and bricks, setting fires in trash cans. When the police whirled around to reverse direction at one point, they found themselves face to face with their worst nightmare: a chorus line of mocking queens, their arms clasped around each other, kicking their heels in the air Rockettes-style and singing at the tops of their sardonic voices:
”We are the Stonewall girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear no underwear
We show our pubic hair . . .
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!”
It was a deliciously witty, contemptuous counterpoint to the TPF's brute force, a tactic that transformed an otherwise traditionally macho eye-for-an-eye combat and that provided at least the glimpse of a different and revelatory kind of consciousness. Perhaps that was exactly the moment Sylvia had in mind when she later said, ”Something lifted off my shoulders.”
But the tactic incited the TPF to yet further violence. As they were badly beating up on one effeminate-looking boy, a portion of the angry crowd surged in, snatched the boy away, and prevented the cops from reclaiming him. Elsewhere, a cop grabbed ”a wild Puerto Rican queen” and lifted his arm as if to club him. Instead of cowering, the queen yelled, ”How'd you like a big Spanish dick up your little Irish ass?” The nonplussed cop hesitated just long enough to give the queen time to run off into the crowd.
The cops themselves hardly escaped scot-free. Somebody managed to drop a concrete block on one parked police car; nobody was injured, but the cops inside were shaken up. At another point, a gold-braided police officer being driven around to survey the action got a sack of wet garbage thrown at him through the open window of his car; a direct hit was scored, and soggy coffee grounds dripped down the officer's face as he tried to maintain a stoic expression. Still later, as some hundred people were being chased down Waverly Place by two cops, someone in the crowd suddenly realized the unequal odds and started yelling, ”There are only two of 'em! Catch 'em! Rip their clothes off! Fuck 'em!” As the crowd took up the cry, the two officers fled.
Before the police finally succeeded in clearing the streets—for that evening only, it would turn out—a considerable amount of blood had been shed. Among the undetermined number of people injured was Sylvia's friend Ivan Valentin; hit in the knee by a policeman's billy club, he had ten stitches taken at St. Vincent's Hospital. A teenager named Lenny had his hand slammed in a car door and lost two fingers. Four big cops beat up a young queen so badly—there is evidence that the cops singled out ”feminine boys”—that she bled simultaneously from her mouth, nose, and ears. Craig and Sylvia both escaped injury (as did Jim, who had hung back on the fringe of the crowd), but so much blood splattered over Sylvia's blouse that at one point she had to go down to the piers and change into the clean clothes Gary had brought back for her.”
Four police officers were also hurt. Most of them sustained minor abrasions from kicks and bites, but Officer Scheu, after being hit with a rolled-up newspaper, had fallen to the cement sidewalk and broken , his wrist. When Craig heard that news, he couldn't resist chuckling over what he called the ”symbolic justice” of the injury. Thirteen people (including Dave Van Ronk) were booked at the Sixth Precinct, seven of them Stonewall employees, on charges ranging from harassment to resisting arrest to disorderly conduct. At three-thirty-five a.m., signal 10-41 was canceled and an uneasy calm settled over the area. It was not to last.
Word of the confrontation spread through the gay grapevine all day Saturday. Moreover, all three of the dailies wrote about the riot (the News put the story on page one), and local television and radio reported it as well. The extensive coverage brought out the crowds, just as Craig had predicted (and had worked to achieve). All day Saturday, curious knots of people gathered outside the bar to gape at the damage and warily celebrate the implausible fact that, for once, cops, not gays, had been routed.
The police had left the Stonewall a shambles. Jukeboxes, mirrors, and cigarette machines lay smashed; phones were ripped out; toilets were plugged up and overflowing; and shards of glass and debris littered the floors. (According to at least one account, moreover, the police had simply pocketed all the money from the jukeboxes, cigarettes machines, cash register, and safe.) On the boarded-up front window that faced the street, anonymous protesters had scrawled signs and slogans—THEY INVADED OUR RIGHTS, THERE IS ALL COLLEGE BOYS AND GIRLS IN HERE, LEGALIZE GAY BARS, SUPPORT GAY POWER—and newly emboldened same-gender couples were seen holding hands as they anxiously conferred about the meaning of these uncommon new assertions.”
True to her determination not to miss anything, Sylvia hadn't slept all night. Even after the crowd had dispersed and gone home, she kept walking the streets, setting garbage cans on fire, venting her pent-up anger, the black beauty still working in her, further feeding her agitation. Later she put it this way: ”I wanted to do every destructive thing I could think of to get back at those who had hurt us over the years. Letting loose, fighting back, was the only way to get across to straight society and the cops that we weren't going to take their fucking bullshit any more.”
Craig finally got to sleep at six a.m., but was up again within a few hours. Like Sylvia, he could hardly contain his excitement, but channeled it according to his own temperament—by jump-starting organizational work. What was needed, Craig quickly decided, was a leaflet, some crystallizing statement of what had happened and why, complete with a set of demands for the future. And to distribute it, he hit upon the idea of two-person teams, one man and one woman on each, just like those he had earlier organized at Mattachine. He hoped to have the leaflet and the teams in place by nightfall. But events overtook him.
Something like a carnival, an outsized block party, had gotten going by early evening in front of the Stonewall. While older, conservative chinos-and-sweater gays watched warily, and some disapprovingly, from the sidelines, ”stars” from the previous night's confrontation reappeared to pose campily for photographs; handholding and kissing became endemic; cheerleaders led the crowd in shouts of ”Gay power”; and chorus lines repeatedly belted out refrains of ”We are the girls from Stonewall.”
But the cops, including Tactical Patrol Force units, were out in force, were not amused at the antics, and seemed grim-facedly determined not to have a repeat of Friday night's humiliation. The TPF lined up across the street from the Stonewall, visors in place, batons and shields at the ready. When the fearless chorus line of queens insisted on yet another refrain, kicking their heels high in the air, as if in direct defiance, the TPF moved forward, ferociously pushing their nightsticks into the ribs of anyone who didn't jump immediately out of their path.
But the crowd had grown too large to be easily cowed or controlled. Thousands of people were by now spilling over the sidewalks, including an indeterminate but sizable number of curious straights and a sprinkling of street people gleefully poised to join any kind of developing rampage. When the TPF tried to sweep people away from the front of the Stonewall, the crowd simply repeated the previous night's strategy of temporarily retreating down a side street and then doubling back on the police. In Craig's part of the crowd, the idea took hold of blocking off Christopher Street, preventing any vehicular traffic from coming through. When an occasional car did try to bulldoze its way in, the crowd quickly surrounded it, rocking it back and forth so vigorously that the occupants soon proved more than happy to be allowed to retreat.
Craig was enjoying this all hugely until a taxicab edged around the corner from Greenwich Avenue. As the crowd gave the cab a vigorous rocking, and a frenzied queen jumped on top of it and started beating on the hood, Craig caught a glimpse inside and saw two terrified passengers and a driver who looked as if he was having a heart attack. Sylvia came on that same scene and gleefully cheered the queen on. But Craig realized that the cab held innocent people, not fag-hating cops, and he worked with others to free it from the crowd's grip so it could back out.
From that point on, and in several parts of the crowd simultaneously, all hell broke loose. Sylvia's friend Marsha P. Johnson climbed to the top of a lamppost and dropped a bag with something heavy in it on a squad car parked directly below, shattering its windshield. Craig was only six feet away and saw the cops jump out of if the car, grab some luckless soul who happened to be close at hand, and beat him badly. On nearby Gay Street, three or four cars filled with a wedding party were stopped in their tracks for a while; somebody in the crowd shouted, ”We have the right to marry, too!” The unintimidated and decidedly unamused passengers screamed back, angrily threatening to call the police. That produced some laughter (”The police are already here!”) and more shouts, until finally the wedding party was allowed to proceed.
From the park side of Sheridan Square, a barrage of bottles and bricks—seemingly hundreds of them, apparently aimed at the police lines—rained down across the square, injuring several onlookers but no officers. Jim had returned to the Stonewall scene in the early evening; when the bottle-throwing started, he raced to the area in the back where it seemed to be coming from, and—using his experience from previous street actions—tried to persuade the bottle-tossers that they were playing a dangerous game, threatening the lives of the protesters more than those of the police.
They didn't seem to care. Jim identified them as ”straight anarchist types, Weathermen types,” determined ”to be really butch about their anger” (unlike those ”frightened sissies”), to foment as large-scale and gory a riot as possible. He thought they were possibly ”crazies”—or police provocateurs—and he realized it would be ineffective simply to say, ”Stop doing this!” So, as he tells it, he tried to temper their behavior by appealing to their macho instincts, suggesting that it would be even braver of them to throw their bottles from the front of the line; that way, if the police, taunted by the flying glass, charged the crowd, they could bear the brunt of the attack themselves. The argument didn't wash; the bottle-throwing continued.
If Jim didn't want people actually getting hurt, he did want to feed the riot. Still smoldering from the failure of his straight friends to show up the previous night (some of his closeted left-wing gay friends, particularly the crowd at Liberation News Service, had also done nothing in response to his calls), he wanted this gay riot ”to be as good as any riot” his straight onetime comrades had ever put together or participated in. And to that end, he carried with him the tools of the guerrilla trade: marbles (to throw under the contingent of mounted police that had by now arrived) and pins (to stick into the horses' flanks).
But the cops needed no additional provocation; they had been determined from the beginning to quell the demonstration, and at whatever cost in bashed heads and shattered bones. Twice the police broke ranks and charged into the crowd, flailing wildly with their nightsticks; at least two men were clubbed to the ground. The sporadic skirmishing went on until four a.m., when the police finally withdrew their units from the area. The next day, The New York Times insisted that Saturday night was ”less violent” than Friday (even while describing the crowd as ”angrier”). Sylvia, too, considered the first night ”the worst.” But a number of others, including Craig, thought the second night was the more violent one, that it marked ”a public assertion of real anger by gay people that was just electric.”
When he got back to his apartment early Sunday morning, his anger and excitement still bubbling, Craig sat down and composed a one-page flyer. Speaking in the name of the Homophile Youth Movement (HYMN) that he had founded, Craig headlined the flyer get the mafia and the cops out of gay bars—a rallying cry that would have chilled Zucchi (who had earlier been reassured by co-owner Mario that the gays only had it in for the cops). Craig went on in the flyer to predict that the events of the previous two nights ”will go down in history”; to accuse the police of colluding with the Mafia to prevent gay businesspeople from opening ”decent gay bars with a healthy social atmosphere (as opposed to the hell-hole atmosphere of places typified by the Stonewall)”; to call on gay people to boycott places like the Stonewall (”The only way . . . we can get criminal elements out of the gay bars is simply to make it unprofitable for them”); and to urge them to ”write to Mayor Lindsay demanding a thorough investigation and effective action to correct this intolerable situation.”
Using his own money, Craig printed up thousands of the flyers and then set about organizing his two-person teams. He had them out on the streets leafleting passersby by midday on Sunday. They weren't alone. After the second night of rioting, it had become clear to many that a major upheaval, a kind of seismic shift, was at hand, and brisk activity was developing in several quarters.
But not all gays were pleased about the eruption at Stonewall. Those satisfied by, or at least habituated to, the status quo preferred to minimize or dismiss what was happening. Many wealthier gays, sunning at Fire Island or in the Hamptons for the weekend, either heard about the rioting and ignored it (as one of them later put it; ”No one [at Fire Island Pines] mentioned Stonewall”), or caught up with the news belatedly. When they did, they tended to characterize the events at Stonewall as ”regrettable,” as the demented carryings-on of ”stoned, tacky queens”—precisely those elements in the gay world from whom they had long since dissociated themselves. Coming back into the city on Sunday night, the beach set might have hastened off to see the nude stage show Oh, Calcutta! or the film Midnight Cowboy (in which Jon Voight played a Forty-second Street hustler)—titillated by such mainstream daring, while oblivious or scornful of the real life counterparts being acted out before their averted eyes.
Indeed some older gays, and not just the wealthy ones, even sided with the police, praising them for the ”restraint” they had shown in not employing more violence against the protesters. As one of the leaders of the West Side Discussion Group reportedly said, ”How can we expect the police to allow us to congregate? Let's face it, we're criminals. You can't allow criminals to congregate.” Others applauded what they called the ”long-overdue” closing of what for years had been an unsightly ”sleaze joint.” There have even been tales that some of the customers at Julius', the bar down the street from Stonewall that had long been favored by older gays (”the good girls from the-fifties,” as one queen put it), actually held three of the rioters for the police.
Along with Craig's teams, there were others on the streets of the Village that Sunday who had been galvanized into action and were trying to organize demonstrations or meetings. Left-wing radicals like Jim Fouratt, thrilled with the lack of leadership in evidence during the two nights of rioting, saw the chance for a new kind of egalitarian gay organization to emerge. He hoped it would incorporate ideas about gender parity and ”rotating leadership” from the bourgeoning feminist movement and build, as well, on the long-standing struggle of the black movement against racism. At the same time, Jim and his fellow gay radicals were not interested in being subsumed any longer under anyone else's banner. They had long fought for every worthy cause other than their own, and—as the events at Stonewall had proven— without any hope of reciprocity. They felt it was time to refocus their energies on themselves.
The Mattachine Society had still another view. With its headquarters right down the street from the Stonewall Inn, Mattachine was in 1969 pretty much the creature of Dick Leitsch, who had considerable sympathy for New Left causes but none for challenges to his leadership. Randy Wicker, himself a pioneer activist and lately a critic of Leitsch, now joined forces with him to pronounce the events at Stonewall ”horrible.” Wicker's earlier activism had been fueled by the notion that gays were ”jes' folks”—just like straights except for their sexual orientation—and the sight (in his words) ”of screaming queens forming chorus lines and kicking went against everything that I wanted people to think about homosexuals . . . that we were a bunch of drag queens in the Village acting disorderly and tacky and cheap.” On Sunday those wandering by Stonewall saw a new sign on its boarded-up facade, this one printed in neat block letters:
WE HOMOSEXUALS PLEAD WITH
OUR PEOPLE TO PLEASE HELP
MAINTAIN PEACEFUL AND QUIET
CONDUCT ON THE STREETS OF
The streets that Sunday evening stayed comparatively quiet, dominated by what one observer called a ”tense watchfulness.” Knots of the curious continued to congregate in front of Stonewall, and some of the primping and posing of the previous two nights was still in evidence. By Sunday, Karla Jay had heard about the riots, and she tried to get Redstockings to issue some sort of sympathetic statement. But just as Jim had failed to rally his left-wing male friends, so Karla was unable to get any gesture of support from straight radical feminists.
She went down to the Village herself for a quick look at the riot scene. But she didn't linger. She had learned during the Columbia upheaval that uninvolved bystanders could be routinely arrested and, headed for a career in academia, she didn't want that on her record. She would wait to see where the riots would lead. She had never been taken with the bar crowd, gay or lesbian, and this unsavory bunch seemed to have inadvertently stumbled into rebellion. She wanted to save herself for the big arrest, for the real revolution. She was sure that was coming, but not at all sure the Stonewall riots represented its imminent arrival.
The police on Sunday night seemed spoiling for trouble. ”Start something, faggot, just start something,” one cop repeated over and over. ”I'd like to break your ass wide open.” (A brave young man purportedly yelled, ”What a Freudian comment, officer!”—and then scampered to safety.) Two other cops, cruising in a police car, kept yelling obscenities at passersby, trying to start a fight, and a third, standing on the corner of Christopher Street and Waverly Place, kept swinging his nightstick and making nasty remarks about ”faggots.”
At one a.m. the TPF made a largely uncontested sweep of the area and the crowds melted away. Allen Ginsberg strolled by, flashed the peace sign and, after seeing ”Gay Power!” scratched on the front of the Stonewall, expressed satisfaction to a Village Voice reporter: ”We're one of the largest minorities in the country—10 percent, you know. It's about time we did something to assert ourselves.”
By Sunday some of the wreckage inside the bar had been cleaned up, and employees had been stationed out on the street to coax patrons back in: ”We're honest businessmen here. We're American-born boys. We run a legitimate joint here. There ain't nuttin' bein' done wrong in dis place. Everybody come and see.” Never having been inside the Stonewall, Ginsberg went in and briefly joined the handful of dancers. After emerging, he described the patrons as ”beautiful—they've lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago.” Deputy Inspector Pine later echoed Ginsberg: ”For those of us in public morals, things were completely changed . . . suddenly they were not submissive anymore.”
In part because of rain, Monday and Tuesday nights continued quiet, with only occasional, random confrontations; the most notable probably came when a queen stuck a lit firecracker under a strutting, wisecracking cop, the impact causing him to land on what the queen called his ”moneymaker.” But Wednesday evening saw a return to something like the large-scale protest of the previous weekend. Perhaps as a result of the appearance that day of two front-page Village Voice articles about the initial rioting, a crowd of some thousand people gathered in the area. Trash baskets were again set on fire, and bottles and beer cans were tossed in the direction of the cops (sometimes hitting protesters instead); the action was accompanied by militant shouts of ”Pig motherfuckers!” ”Fag rapists!” and ”Gestapo!” The TPF wielded their nightsticks indiscriminately, openly beat people up, left them bleeding on the street, and carted off four to jail on the usual charge of ”harassment.”
That proved the last of the Stonewall riots, but when it came time only two days later for the fifth annual picket of Independence Hall, the repercussions could be clearly measured. As the originator of the Annual Reminder, Craig was again centrally involved in organizing it. But when he placed ads in The Village Voice to drum up interest, he got, along with some fifty recruits (half of whom were women, including two who brought along their young children), a series of ugly, threatening phone calls. The callers warned Craig that the bus he had rented to go to Philadelphia would be followed and capsized, and its occupants beaten to a pulp.
Sure enough, when the participants gathered at eight a.m. on July 4 to board the bus in front of Craig's bookstore on Mercer Street, a convertible with four ”white rednecks in it brandishing baseball bats” pulled up and parked across the street. The four men simply sat there, glaring at the group in front of Craig's shop, apparently waiting for them to set off. But Craig was a step ahead of them. After he had gotten three or four of the threatening calls, he had contacted the police and had somehow convinced them to put an officer on the bus with them up to the Holland Tunnel. Then, on the other side of the tunnel, Craig managed to arrange for a New Jersey state trooper to board the bus and accompany it halfway down to Philadelphia.
The men in the convertible never followed the bus beyond Craig's bookstore. This was not, in Craig's view, because the sight of a policeman frightened them off, but because the presence of women and children took them by surprise; they had expected to see ”just faggots,” and as well-indoctrinated macho men felt they had to desist from a physical attack on ”innocents.” In any case, the bus arrived in Philadelphia without incident.
The demonstration in front of Independence Hall began in much the way it had in previous years: the group of some seventy-five people—men in suits and ties, women in dresses, despite the ninety-five-degree heat—walked silently in a circle, radiating respectability, eschewing any outward sign of anger. (Craig even kept his temper when a mean-looking man on the sidelines hissed ”Suck!” in his face every time he passed by.) But the events at Stonewall had had their effect. After a half hour of marching quietly in single file, two of the women suddenly broke ranks and started to walk together, holding hands. Seeing them, Craig thought elatedly, ”0-oh—that's wonderful!”
But Frank Kameny, the Washington, D.C., leader who had long considered himself to be in charge of the demonstration, had a quite different reaction. Back in 1966 Kameny hadn't hesitated in pulling a man from the line who had dared to appear without a jacket and wearing sneakers, and Kameny was not about to tolerate this latest infraction of his rule that the demonstration be ”lawful, orderly, dignified.” His face puffy with indignation and yelling, ”None of that! None of that!” Kameny came up behind the two women and angrily broke their hands apart.65
Craig instantly hit the ceiling. When Kameny went over to talk to the two reporters who had turned up for the event (one from a Philadelphia paper and one from Reuters), Craig barged up to them and blurted out, ”I've got a few things to say!” And what he said— in his own description, ”ranting and raving”—was that the events in New York the previous week had shown that the current gay leadership was bankrupt, that gays were entitled to do whatever straights did in public—yes, wearing cool clothes in the heat, and, if they felt like it, holding hands too.
Kameny was furious at this unprecedented challenge to his authority, and, on different grounds, the veteran activists Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin chided Craig for calling so much ”personal attention” to himself. But, as had not been the case in previous years, many of those who had come down on the bus from New York were young people personally recruited by Craig at his bookstore. Some of them were students at NYU and, being much younger than Kameny or Gittings, had no prior movement affiliation (and no respect for what the homophile movement had accomplished). They had been energized by Stonewall, were impatient for further direct confrontation with oppressive traditions and habits—and vigorously applauded Craig's initiative.
All the way back on the bus, they argued with their recalcitrant elders for a new impetus, a new departure that would embody the defiant spirit of Stonewall. As the contention continued, it became clear to Craig that this would be the final Reminder—that a new day had dawned, which required different tactics, a different format. Yet it saddened him to think that a common enterprise of five years standing would pass from the scene without any immediate replacement in sight. And then it came to him. Why shouldn't there be an immediate replacement? Didn't the events at Stonewall themselves require commemoration? Maybe the Annual Reminder simply ought to be moved to New York—but, unlike the Reminder, be designed not as a silent plea for rights but as an overt demand for them. Craig thought of a name right then and there: Christopher Street Liberation Day.
That same July Fourth evening, New York Mattachine called a public meeting at St. John's Church on Waverly Place, designed to derail precisely the kind of rumored plans for new demonstrations and organizations that Craig had in mind. Dick Leitsch, described by one reporter as wearing a ”staid brown suit” and looking like ”a dependable fortyish Cartier salesclerk,” told the packed crowd of two hundred (mostly male, mostly young) that it was indeed important to protest police brutality, but it was also important to remember that ”the gay world must retain the favor of the Establishment, especially those who make and change the laws.” Acceptance, Leitsch cautioned, ”would come slowly by educating the straight community with grace and good humor and—“
Leitsch was interrupted by an angry young man who stood up and yelled, ”We don't want acceptance, goddamn it! We want respect!”—and he was seconded by shouts from others. Leitsch's loyal lieutenant at Mattachine, Madolin Cervantes (who was heterosexual) took the mike to call for a candlelight vigil, saying, ”We should be firm, but just as amicable and sweet as—” She, too, was interrupted—this time by Jim Fouratt, who had been sitting agitatedly in the audience and had held his peace up to that point.
”Sweet?” Jim hollered, ”Sweet! Bullshit! There's the stereotype homo again . . . soft, weak, sensitive! . . . That's the role society has been forcing these queens to play. . . . We have got to radicalize. … Be proud of what you are. … And if it takes riots or even guns to show them what we are, well, that's the only language that the pigs understand!”
His impassioned speech led to a wild burst of applause. Leitsch tried to reply, but Jim shouted him down: ”All the oppressed have got to unite! . . . Not one straight radical group showed up at Stonewall! If it'd been a black demonstration they'd have been there. . . . We've got to work together with all the New Left!” By then a dozen people were on their feet, shouting encouragement. Leitsch tried to regain control of the meeting, but to no avail. ”This meeting is over!” Jim yelled, and invited all those who shared his views to follow him over to Alternate University, a loft space on Fourteenth Street and Sixth Avenue that was home to a variety of radical enterprises. (It was known to the cognoscenti as ”Alternate U.”) By Jim's recollection, some thirty-five or forty people followed him out of St. John's. In the reconstituted meeting at Alternate U., they began to talk about forming a new activist gay organization—talk that would soon culminate in the Gay Liberation Front.
As for ”Fat Tony” Lauria, he was quick to see the handwriting on the wall. He and his partners, Mario and Zucchi, decided that with the pending investigation of corruption within the police department by a special commission, and with Stonewall now notorious, the bar could never again operate profitably. Fat Tony soon sold the Stonewall lease to Nicky de Martino, the owner of the Tenth of Always, and had the satisfaction of watching him fail quickly—even though, with the help of Ed Murphy, de Martino got some street queens to parade around in front of Stonewall with balloons for a week or two.
(This has been a caption of the book Stonewall by Martin Duberman, 1993 – pages 181-212 of the paperback edition.)
Utlagt på internet 2005-02-25 av Jan Magnusson