No Drag Queens at Stonewall You Say? We say take a flying fuck!
Setting The Record Queer. Get Thee Behind Me Tricksters.
This article was published last year (2008) over at QWB after the editor of the Metroline made the statement that there were no drag queens at Stonewall. We again publish this essay in our series during this the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion for our many new readers. Knowing that the “smalls” will once again bring up this argument we must be ready to stop these revisionists from revising with their lies. Remember Stonewall was not a “call your legislator,” or a peaceful candle light vigil–It was a fight back, a rebellion, a “we won’t take this crap anymore.” We must recall and call upon that fighting spirit. When we have to fight back , let us not be afraid to do so, no matter who it is that needs a damn good slamming down. “When you are under attack, Stonewall Means Fight Back!! There is a wealth of information in the article. ENJOY and KEEP THE REBELLION ALIVE! —updated opening statement 2009.
2011 furbirdsqueerly publication in pages.
Trdennels asked us to re-publish this article in our pages section and we are very happy to do so. If there are any young folks reading our blog we say, its good to know our real queerstories and not be moving in the wrong direction pulled by gays and lesbians who should know better but do not.
Setting the Record Queer. Get Thee Behind Me Tricksters.
Where to begin when trying to knock tricksters off the pedestal that they sit up upon. Many of our readers and those in our e-mail circles know about the recent flap with the Metroline. Joe DaBrow the editor wrote in the Metroline’s so called PRIDE issue these words. “Stonewall was not simply an activist protest where they went home afterward and partied. They were beaten and dragged away to jail by the police. It was a time when fag bashing was an accepted method of controlling homos and keeping them out of the neighborhood. There were no drag queens there at all. It was gay human beings simply standing up for being who they were.”
In a recent Metroline article dated late June, Mr. DaBrow then tries to say that he meant he was talking about the first night of the Stonewall Rebellion. The first night of the fight back June 27, 1969. He even puts this qualifying statement in all capital letters. VERY FIRST NIGHT. Mr. DaBrow then backs up his statement by saying that he talked with the President and founding member of the Stonewall Vets who remains nameless. (Mr. Williamson Henderson was the president up until July 1st.) Mr DaBrow claims his source told him that there were no drag queens in Stonewall the first night. (Mr. DaBrow claims this but didn’t find in necessary to put it in quotes in the article.) Mr.DaBrow claims a lot of other things in his ramble as he attempts to smear the reputation of decent hard fighting queer people and to set himself and the bar rag Metroline as the oracle of all things LGBT. The Metroline’s recurring argument about whether drag queens and trans people were a part of the Stonewall rebellion or not really reflects a long standing phenomenon in “gay” history which is the discomfort of many gay men and lesbians with transgender, transvestites, drag queens, etc. So, this almost annual argument is a small reflection of the continuing desire for all trans people to be fully respected and recognized by many of us and the continuing desire by the homo-normative and somewhat straight laced gay men and lesbians to minimize or outright deny any presence of contributions by drag queens or other trans people to the early “gay” rights movement. And today claims are made by the Metroline that they respect and include Transpeople now, yet it has an unconvincing “ring” to it still.
One thing I do know is that the editor and the publisher of the Metroline sure have inflated heads over their influence within the LGBT community. I find it odd that I even care to write about anything that the Metroline has said as I don’t make it a habit to read it. Those days are long gone. No one I know reads it and in fact when I sent out an e-mail notice about what Mr. DaBrow had said 9 out of 10 people told me that they don’t even bother looking at it. My e-mail list consists of some very long time movers and shakers in the LGBT community. I would take to issue, much more of what was stated in the recent Metroline by Mr. DaBrow and Mr. Crowley but have decided why play into their yellow journalism and why give them any more fuel for their tired old fire. They really aren’t worth it regardless of what they may think. I will take up the issue of the nights of the Stonewall Rebellion and first will have to submit that our LGBT history books tell us otherwise than that which was stated in the Metroline. If what Mr. DaBrow and Mr. Crowley said is true we would then have to question some of our great historians such as Martin Duberman, Eric Marcus, Neil Miller and a host of others and say sorry you got it all wrong? So the history that we have been fed is a big bag of bull? I don’t think so. Raise your hand if you do. Mr. DaBrow never really comes out and tells us what the president and founding member says regarding drag queens at Stonewall but in his overbearing snug attitude says he “personally had a very nice and supportive talk with the President and Founder. Research? Check.” I do hope that Mr. DaBrow doesn’t want me or anyone else who does research to believe that one conversation with one person is research. Simply because Mr. Henderson was in the bar and arrested that night does not mean he knows everything that was happening. I sort of like what Craig Rodwell had to say, “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.” Let’s get one thing queer. The rebellion was made up of all sorts of folks not only people who were inside the Stonewall.
Knocking the Metroline Jokers off their perches.
Let’s read here an account from a person in the bar that night, this account is from Marty Manford who became a leader in the GAA.(now that white boy club is a whole other story) Another name that Mr. John Crowley names in his attempt to say I too know it all. These words of Mr. Manford were found in Making History, The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990 An Oral History, edited by Eric Marcus. Marty’s account goes like this. ” the Stonewall was my favorite place. It was a dive. It was shabby, and the glasses they served the watered-down drinks in weren’t particularly clean. the place attracted a very eclectic crowd. Patrons included every type of person: some transvestites, a lot of students, young people, older people, businessmen. It was an interesting place. The night of the raid some men in suits and ties entered the place and walked around a little bit. Suddenly the lights were turned up, and the doors were sealed, and all the patrons were held captive until the police decided what they were going to do. I was anxious, but I wasn’t afraid. It may have been ten or fifteen minutes later that we were all told to leave. We had to line up and our identification was check before we were freed. People who did not have identification or were under age and all of the transvestites were detained. Those who didn’t meet whatever standards the police had were incarcerated temporarily in the coatroom. The coat closet! After everybody that was going to be released were released the prisoners–transvestites and bar personnel, bartenders. and the bouncers were herded into a paddy wagon that was parked right on the sidewalk in front of the bar.” Mr. Manford goes on to tell of a large crowd gathering in the street in front of the Stonewall. The first night account of Mr. Marty Manford can be found on page 200 of Mr. Marcus book. (1) So Mr. Manford saw transvestites at the bar that night. I wonder who else Mr. Henderson didn’t see. Oh one interesting fact to add here is, according to an account in Martin Duberman’s book Stonewall there were close to 200 people in the Stonewall Inn that evening.
So let’s continue our quest of what happened at the Stonewall Rebellion. Our next stop is Rev. Magora Kennedy, an eyewitness of the first night. Rev. Kennedy is the Chaplin of the Stonewall Veterans Association and this modified account comes from her page on the site. The Rev. gives an account of the struggle and arrest of Williamson Henderson before the spark that ignited our fight back, when Henderson was struggling with the cops, nightsticked and stuck in the back of a police car. “My friends and I observed a couple of cops take Williamson Henderson, thought I didn’t know him or his name then, off to a black and dark green cop car and did a little billy-clubbing along the way.” Further down her page she states, “After awhile, as the excitement and the crowds continued to grow and get louder and feistier, I saw this big, good-looking black drag queen, with a fancy blue cocktail dress and some sparkly high heel shoes, yank loose a street parking meter, “with a little help from her friends”. “At this point with the turning of the tables, many of the cops were now barricaded inside The Stonewall Club and we were all on the outside! What a change of events that was. The ‘black ’n’ blue drag queen–without a green light–and her new-found, very Gay rebellious friends began to batter The Stonewall’s door with the uprooted parking meter and bang on the front door of the Stonewall but nobody in the ‘inn’ was answering. It wasn’t too long before the cops called for some heavy duty reinforcements.”(2) Gee now I don’t know the good Rev. but she looks like a nice decent person, one if I went to church would love to hear preach. She sure don’t look like a liar to me. And her words come right from the Stonewall Vets site so I don’t think that with their “We were there and WE know” attitude that they would allow anyone to tell a lie. So let’s hear it for the “BLUE AND BLACK DRAG QUEEN” who battered the door of Stonewall. A very brave person a bamming, banging upfront, out front Black Drag Queen Revolutionary.
Our next stop is to visit the beautiful Queen Alison Allante, Stonewall Veteran, founder of the Imperial Queens and Kings of New York and movie star. Queen Alison stared in the movie Stonewall. I take this from her royal Highness’s page on the Stonewall Vets. site. In an interview Queen Alison, not only talks about June 27 at the Stonewall Inn but about the founding of the Imperial Queens and Kings. This interview is with “Transgender Tapestry.”
Transgender T: We understand that you were at the original Stonewall bar the night of the rebellion that sparked the gay/bi/les/tans movement.
Queen Alison: Yes, on June 27, 1969, that’s when the Stonewall rebellion started. It was a Friday evening. I was there as well as other members of the Imperial queens. I was one of the ones unfortunately that was apprehended at the scene. That was the main distinction. And I did fight back. I fought off three cops, as a matter of fact at the same time. The protests lasted for a week. I was there only the first night of the rebellion. I was in shock subsequent to that.
Queen Alison goes on to answer a question about what began the events of that evening. She also speaks of the Imperial Queens and Kings who forever changed the police department of the city of New York with the work that they did. The interview continues when Transgender has this to say.
Transgender T: So, you are saying that the Imperial Kings and Queens were already in existence at the time of the Stonewall Rebellion?
Queen Allyson: It was formed before the rebellion on Halloween 1968 at the Stonewall Inn. That was where a lot of people gathered, drag queens, transvestites, transsexuals. They came from Long Island and the outer boroughs of New York, from New Jersey and even Connecticut because it was a dance club. We went there for the dancing, for the music. It was a fun place. One day someone decided to form an organization, and that became the Imperial Queens and Kings. Since the Stonewall was the best place for people to get together because it was a central place to meet in Greenwich Village we held our meetings there.” To read all of Queen Alison’s interview check her out on the Stonewall Veterans Site.
Our next stop is with one of my all time favorites of the GLBT/Q movement. Our comrade, sister, trans warrior, Sylvia Rae Rivera. I have very cherished memories of Sylvia though I was never a friend I feel very close to her. Sylvia came in Hartford in response to the 1999 Metroline flap when once again the editor of the Metroline, an individual who worked for them and some other community members began their vicious attacks on the drag community, on the bi community and on one of our dear friends and comrades. What a wonderful time myself, Regina, Tim and the people that were with Sylvia had visiting both inside and outside of the conference. Sylvia has fought off many attacks over the years from within the Gay and Lesbian movement. And today I in her honor fight off this latest Metroline crap. In the telling of Sylvia’s story I will use 2 sources. One of course is Martin Duberman’s book Stonewall and the other is Making History The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990, An Oral History, compiled by Eric Marcus. Sylvia describes herself that night by saying. “I wasn’t in full drag that evening anyway. I was dressed very pleasantly. When I dress up, I always tried to pretend that I was a white woman. I always like to say that, but really I’m Puerto Rican and Venezuelan. That night I was wearing this fabulous woman’s suit I had made at home. It was light beige–very summery. Bell bottoms were in style then. I had my hair out. Lots of makeup and lots of hair. I was wearing boots. I don’t know why I was wearing boots.” According to Duberman, Sylvia had told him she wasn’t concerned after her boyfriend handed her ID over to her as the people who would be arrested were, those without ID, those wearing clothing not appropriate to their gender (3 pieces of clothing law), and employees of the bar. Sylvia was checked and told to get out and she joined others out in the street to begin fighting the good fight.(1) & (4) Sylvia when interviewed by Leslie Fienberg had this to say, “I was a radical, a revolutionist. I am still a revolutionist…I am glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a Molotov cocktail, I thought, “My god, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here!” I always believed that we would have a fight back. I just knew that we would fight back. I just didn’t know it would be that night. I am proud of myself as being there that night. If I had lost that moment, I would have been kinda hurt because that’s when I saw the world change for me and my people.” That first night and the nights that followed when hundreds of people gathered in the streets all doing what they could do to shake off years of oppression I can’t understand how anyone could be so bold to say who was or who wasn’t out there.
Historian David Carter in his book, “Stonewall: The riots that sparked the Gay revolution,” had this to say. “When the raid the cops ordered people into different rooms, then lined them up demanding to see their ID. transsexual and transgender patrons were grouped together near the restrooms.” (5)
On the Stonewall Vets site I found some interesting facts about the arrests during the days of our rebellion. There were a total of 21 arrests made during the days of the rebellion. There were 13 arrests the first night (Friday June 27th) 6 arrests on the second night (Saturday June 28th), and 3 arrests on the third night (Sunday June 29th). There was no rebellion on Monday and Tuesday due to the rain. One the 4th night July 2nd and the 5th and final night July 3rd there were no arrests. In Mr. DaBrow’s article he claims that it was the 3rd night that a paddy wagon full of drag Queens was hauled off, according to some sources, including witness that were there.” All I can say with the 3 arrests that night,(right from the horses mouth, the Stonwall Vets) that damn paddy wagon must have been full.
It has always been interesting to me to read the accounts of how other gays and lesbians perceived the riots. Those who were the “we made it”, upper classes, (condemned the rebellion as “regrettable”, the closeted ( ? ), those in the Mattachine Society ( We Homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village-Mattachine”) (after talking to the mayor’s office and the police, the Mattachine joined in the efforts to stop the protests by talking to people who showed up outside the Stonewall in an attempt to discourage them from protesting and further), older guys who sipped their drinks at Julius (who some say held rioters for the police), the publisher of the Metroline, “It should be remembered that these people had been drinking all evening, they were not heroes. Many of their actions were most likely brought on by alcohol,” those who made it a habit of denouncing the queens, the street hustlers, people of color, and anyone else who they couldn’t fathom as another piece of meat or a part of gay society. I love to read about some of those who fill our history books, Dick Leitsch of the NY Mattachine, Randy Wicker, who pronounced the events of Stonewall “horrible” who stated, that “gays were just folk”–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 tacky and cheap.”
I remember quite well the flak that I got from closted/mainstream gays back in my hometown when I began to grow my hair and talk leftist politics. No one not even in a dark place wanted to be seen associating with me. I believe that during that short period I stayed there that my politics of today, how I perceive the mainstream G & L movement and those in the upper classes, began to branch and take hold. I see this same attitude but with updated differences a foot in many of the mainstream single issue groups. I see it as many race to be that spoonful of sugar that will help the medicine of G & L go down a straight persons throat without a choke. I see it today when old time activists denounce leather people and drag queens when telling us they really have nothing to do with the movement. I see it today when people talk of “gay this” and “gay that”, either being too lazy to say Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or wishing to hark back to the old days when all of us were called gay and the movement was driven by the “respectables, the homo-normative, the we are the same as you crowd. I cherish all of my queer friends. I cherish my friends in the Trans community, I cherish the multi-issue stand of queers and I cherish where I walk in the footsteps of people who fought the good fight and continue to fight it today.
1. Making History: the Struggle For Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights 1945-1990, An Oral History, Eric Marcus, Harper Collins 1992.
2. Rev. Magora Kennedy. Stonewall Veterans Web Site, Photo Album. (These are the Reverends words taken from her section of the site.
3. Queen Alison Allante, Stonewall Veterans Web Site, Photo Album, (This interview first appeared in Transgender Tapestry and can be found in the Photo Album section on the site under Queen Alison Allante.
4. Stonewall,Martin Duberman, Penguin Books, 1993.
5. Stonewall: The riots that sparked the Gay revolution, David Carter, St. Matin Press.
Other information was from Lavender and Red a series by Leslie Feinberg published on the Workers World Site. Lavender and Red is a weekly series that Leslie is writing concerning the struggle for GLBT rights. Check these out at www.workers,irg/2006/us/lavender-red-65.
Be sure to check out the Stonewall Veterans Site for some very interesting information.
To read the Metroline articles goggle in Metroline. It is the late June issue. The Metroline does not archive so do it soon.