This is a little something I first posted on my original blog back in 2004, and I think it's time to dust it off and bring it back out again - a history lesson that features the death of a show business legend, a mafia run bar in New York City, and a flash point in history.
Once upon a time there was a famous movie star and singer who went by the name of Judy Garland. She was renowned through out the world for her phenomenal voice and acting abilities; subsequently she was also known as a troubled soul with a penchant for marrying the wrong men and indulging in prescription drugs and one too many cocktails.
The famous woman was said to have many gay fans.
One day the famous woman, while in London, took a few too many sleeping pills and never woke up.
Her body was flown back to the States and her funeral was held in New York City at Campbell's Funeral Home located on Madison Avenue. It is said that close to 22,000 people lined the streets to wait on line and pay their last respects to her.
The funeral was held on June 27th, 1969.
It was a Friday night.
During this same Friday night, across town at a seedy little Mafia run bar known as The Stonewall Inn, a lot of men gathered to drink. Many of them were saddened by the death of the famous singer, or so we are told. Some insist that the famous singer’s death made these men feel angry as well.
At some time during the night, New York’s finest decided to raid the bar, as they were prone to doing back in those times.
You see, back then, if you were in a bar like The Stonewall Inn, you were considered a pariah, and you could be rounded up and arrested and have your name printed in the paper and pretty much have your life ruined.
But something odd happened that night.
People fought back, and they fought hard.
Police were pummeled with spare change and right hooks by queens and pansy boys, and eventually a mob gathered and in the spirit of the times (this was the 60’s after all) a full scale riot broke out.
Some say that another riot broke out the following night, while others insist that it was a three night affair, with police pretty much outnumbered by gay men and women as well as some very cool straight folk. (It should be noted that one of the men attacked by the police that night was the late Folk Singer, Dave Van Ronk -- who, while not gay, took a beating for his gay brothers.)
A few days later, The New York Daily News ran this headline: Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad. As you can see, even the press back then mocked gays.
Of course as with every good legend, there are many variations as to what actually did occur. Several good books have been written on the subject ( Martin Duberman’s being one of the best); and it is said that every gay man of a certain age in New York claims to have been at the Stonewall the night all hell broke loose.
The truth about the riots; Who knows? What is known is that The Stonewall Riots were a turning point in gay history, and while younger gay people today probably have little or no idea why the Gay Pride Parades are always held in late June, it would be a shame to forget this colorful little piece of history that occurred a few months before the Woodstock Festival.
So this year on June 27th , raise a toast to those tough customers that fought back, and another to the late Dave Van Ronk for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and one more to the memory of a famous lady who died too soon and whose death was quite possibly the convoluted catalyst for change.