The Night They Raided Stonewall
Most of the employees at the Stonewall Inn in Green-wich Village, 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 drag 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, blond, 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 with gorgeous men, and arranged wonderful three-ways, so her outspo-kenness 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, two of the co-owners, Zucchi and Mario; Ernie Sgroi, who always wore a suit and tie and whose father had started the famed Bon Soir on 8th Street; “Vito,” who was on salary directly from another co-owner, “Fat Tony” Lauria, and was hugely proud of his personal collection of S.S. uniforms and Nazi flags (he 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 fanci-est 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 exagger-atedly 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 ar-rive, 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 an-other, smaller room off to one side, with a stone wishing well in the middle, its own jukebox and service bar, and booths, that be- came headquarters for the more flamboyant contingent among 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 full-time transvestites, like Tiffany, Spanola Jerry (a hairdresser from Sheepshead Bay), and Tammy Novak (who per-formed 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), who regularly changed back into men’s clothes after a performance, would be admitted in drag, though he had been a well-known drag performer since the early fifties and in the late sixties had a long-running show at the Crazy Horse, a nearby café on Bleecker Street. Tish was admitted into some up-town straight clubs in full drag; there, as he sniffily put it, his “artistry” was recognized.
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 cos-metics and the favored Tabu or Ambush perfumes, admire or deplore somebody’s latest Kanecalon wig, make fun of six-foot transsexual Lynn’s size-twelve women’s shoes (while admiring her fishnet stockings and miniskirts and giggling over her tales of ser-vicing the firemen around the corner at the 10th Street station), move constantly in and out of the ladies room (where they de-plored the fact that a single red light bulb made the application of makeup difficult), and dance in a feverish sweat till closing time at 4:00 A.M.
The jukebox on the dance floor played a variety of songs, even an occasional “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” to appease the roman-tics. The Motown label was still top of the heap in the summer of 1969, and 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 Romeo and Juliet over and over, the record’s saccha-rine 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 chinos-and-penny-loafer crowd pretty much stayed near the main bar, fraternizing with the queens, if at all, mostly on the dance floor. (“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” Ray Riviera had been invited to Marsha P. Johnson’s birthday party on June 27, 1969, but she decided not to go. It’s not 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, Sun-days 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 they had just gotten back from papering Washington, D.C. The first news they heard on returning was of Judy Garland’s funeral that very day: how twenty thousand peo-ple 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 81st 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 (her grandmother, 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 were going out at all—“Was it all right to dance with the martyred Judy not cold in her grave?”—she would go to her favorite, 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 were 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 Fouratt’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 1:00 A.M. had headed back to his apartment in the Village. Passing by the Stonewall Inn—a bar he despised, insisting 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 on-lookers 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. 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 Sergeant, 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 de-velopment. Just then, the police pushed open the front door of the Stonewall and marched in. Craig looked at his watch: it was 1:20 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 birthday, was also headed downtown to Stonewall, determined to party 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 were 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 arrested would be those without IDs, those dressed in the clothes of the opposite gender, and some or all of the em-ployees. 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 it was 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 makeup on, she knew the hassling would be minimal. But she was pissed; the good high she’d 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 any-way. 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 eighteen. 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 wrists 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 was due to take place—this happened, on av-erage, 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 detec-tives 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 1:20 A.M.—the height of the merriment—and with no advance warning to the Stonewall management. (Chuck Shaheen recalls some vague tipoff 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 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 Fitzger-ald, 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 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 the Sixth Precinct (in Ryder’s presence) for having failed to provide warn-ing 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 (BATF) 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, BATF 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 into 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; the bartenders took the money from the cigar boxes that served as a kind of cash register, 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 con-tents, Maggie said it contained her tips as a “cigarette girl,” and they let her go. When later questioned by her employers, 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 war-rant 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. The owners, Zucchi and Mario, escaped through a back door connected to the office and 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 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 grew 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 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 ini-tially. 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, and 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 ris-ing 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!” as he poked 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 act-ing 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 mo-ment of explosion. According to Beard, the cops had arrested the cross-dressed lesbian inside the bar for not wearing the requisite three pieces of clothing “appropriate to one’s gender” mandated by Section 887(7) of the New York Code of Criminal Procedure. As they led her out of the bar, so Beard’s version goes, she com-plained that the handcuffs they had put on her were too tight; in response, one of the cops slapped her in the head with his night-stick. 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 in-cident, 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 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, con-tinued 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 from 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 en-gineer 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 po-lice 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 offi-cer, nervously told departing police to “just drop them off at the Sixth Precinct and hurry back.”
From this point on, the melee 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 offi-cer 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 had 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. Some-one even picked up dog shit from the street and threw it in the cops’ direction. As the fever mounted, Zucchi was overheard ner-vously 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 dam-aged 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 weekend before), but he gave it his all—the can went sailing into the plate-glass win-dow (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 long-repressed rage.
Craig dashed to a nearby phone booth. Ever conscious of the need for publicity—for visibility—and realizing that a critical mo-ment had arrived, he called all three daily papers: the Times, the Post, and the Daily 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 that “people were fighting the cops—it was just like Newark!” He urged them to rush down and lend their support (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 bit-ter 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 fright-ened. 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 caved 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 fag-gots 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 was 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 were 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 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 win-dow, 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 prepared to shoot when he heard the sound of sirens coming down Christopher Street. At 2:55 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 suggested (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 it-self 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.
It was a deliciously witty, contemptuous counterpoint to the TPF’s brute force, a tactic that transformed an otherwise tradi-tionally 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 would 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 man-aged 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 who was being driven around to sur-vey the action had 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 two of ’em! Catch ’em! Rip their clothes off! Fuck ’em!” As the crowd took up the cry, the 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 peo-ple 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 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 mi-nor 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), seven of them Stonewall employees, were booked at the Sixth Precinct on charges ranging from harassment to resisting arrest to disorderly conduct. At 3:35 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 grape-vine all day Saturday. Moreover, all three of the dailies wrote about the riot (the Daily 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 pre-dicted (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 Stonewall a shambles. Jukeboxes, mir-rors, and cigarette machines had been 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 pocketed all the money from the jukeboxes, cigarette 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, LEGAL-IZE 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 assump-tions.
Something like a carnival, an outsized block party, had got-ten going by early Saturday 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; cheer-leaders 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 grimfacedly 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 con-trolled. Thousands of people were by now spilling over the side-walks, 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 peo-ple 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 all this 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 were having a heart attack. Sylvia came on that same scene and glee-fully 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 simul-taneously, all hell broke loose. Sylvia’s friend Marsha P. Johnson climbed to the top of a lamppost and dropped a bag with some-thing 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 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 on-lookers but no officers. Jim had returned to the Stonewall scene in the early evening; when the bottle-throwing started, he raced to the area 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, threaten-ing the lives of the protesters more than those of the police.
They didn’t seem to care. Jim identified them as “straight an-archist 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 pos-sibly “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 in-stincts, 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 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 hooves of 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 po-lice 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 4:00 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 consid-ered 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 rally-ing cry that would have chilled Zucchi. 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 sec-ond 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 pre-ferred 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 de-mented carryings-on of “stoned, tacky queens”—precisely those elements in the gay world from whom they had long since disasso-ciated themselves. Coming back into the city on Sunday night, the beach set might have hastened off to see the nude stage show Oh, Calautta! or the film Midnight Cowboy (in which Jon Voigt played a 42nd 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 purportedly 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 congre-gate.” Others applauded what they called the “long-overdue” clos-ing of what for years had been an unsightly “sleaze joint.” There are even 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 evi-dence 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 burgeoning 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 inter-ested 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 head-quarters 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 chal-lenges to his leadership. Randy Wicker, himself a pioneer activist and lately a critic of Leitsch, now joined forces with him to pro-nounce 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 ho-mosexuals...that we were a bunch of drag queens in the Village acting disorderly and tacky and cheap.” On Sunday those wander-ing by Stonewall saw a new sign on its boarded-up facade, this one printed in neat block letters:
WE HOMOSEXUALS PLEAD WITH
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.
The police 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 pur-portedly 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 Wa-verly Place, kept swinging his nightstick and making nasty remarks about “faggots.”
At 1:00 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 ten 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.”
As revolutions go, the street-fighting that took place around Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village on the night of June 27, 1969, lacked the splendor of the Bastille or the sweep of the Finland Station. State power did not crumble, great leaders did not appear, no clear objective was advanced. A bunch of drag queens and their friends, pulled from the Stonewall gay bar in a police raid, refused to go docilely into the paddy wagons, and all hell broke loose along Christopher Street and the adjoining parks and alleys. Fighting between the queers and the cops resumed on the next night, but that was the extent of the violence. And yet the Stonewall riot must count as a transformative moment of libera-tion, not only for homosexuals, who were the street fighters, but for the entire sexual culture, which broke out of confinement that night as surely as gay people emerged from the closet.
Stonewall was a material metaphor for emergence, visibility, and pride, and its historic power has been its affirmation of gay identity rather than its establishment of a particular homosexual agenda. Unlike the “national days” of other communities, coun-tries, and ethnic groups, the nationwide celebration of the anniver-sary of the riots memorializes an act of legitimization, not an act of parliament, a treaty, or a war. Gay Pride Week, the name for the ob-servance, could hardly be more appropriate. Although Stonewall came at the very end of a decade of convulsive change and was profoundly informed by the struggles of black Americans, women, radical students, and insurgent movements throughout the Third World, it was in many ways the purest cultural revolution of them all and the precursor of the postmodern politics of identity that proliferated in the decades to follow. Lesbians and gays are surely today’s children of Stonewall, but many more are stepchildren or close cousins. That June night almost a quarter of a century ago now belongs to everyone.
It has taken a generation—or is it now two?—for the crucial significance of Stonewall to emerge from its own gay closet and be seen in the light of the social history of its time. Because the event was so much a revolution of personal identity, it is natu-ral that historians focus on details of personal experience, on the lives of the participants, on the hilarious, humdrum, and sad de-tails of an utterly incongruous melee. In the preceding excerpt, Martin Duberman tells the story of the riot’s beginnings through the accounts of the band of barflies, bartenders, and bouncers, the drags, spear-carriers, and politicos who just happened to be in the same place on the same night and think of themselves as a historic happy few way back on the eve of their own private Agincourt.
Lenin said somewhere that a revolution is a “festival of the op-pressed,” and although Stonewall wasn’t remotely Leninist in any other regard, it was certainly festive, and the crowd that poured out of the bar was definitely low-down. The prominence of drag queens in the vanguard of the insurgency always made theoretical sense: as one of the most marginal, disdained, and isolated sectors of the homosexual world (it could not yet be called a “gay community”), the drags had the least to lose from acting out, or acting up—and perhaps the most to gain. But as much as “straight-appearing” gay men (an epithet that still appears in the personals columns) kept their distance from drag queens, or treated them only as camp objects of amusement, the “chinos-and-penny-loafers” boys, as Duberman calls them, could see that those qualities in the drags that were most despised by the straight world were hidden in all homosexuals in one form or another. The most untempered, out-rageous, and flamboyant behavior—and the most oppressed—was thus the most liberating expression of all. In the gay liberation movement that exploded after Stonewall, young lesbians and gay men were urged to “get into their oppression,” to comb the cran-nies of gay consciousness and sensibility, and to feel solidarity with those who suffered the most.
Stonewall was the beginning of something, but it was also the culmination of a long siege of conflict, during which protest had become a normal way of making politics, and all sorts and sizes of groups had bid for power. Many of the campaigns crossed commu-nal lines, but there was a great deal of fear, a sense of threat, and sometimes an ardent “nationalism” that kept the groups apart. Stonewall is often described as a narrowly constructed, exclusively gay male “happening” (in the sixties sense), but lots of lines were crossed. As Duberman points out, the drag contingent, at least, was remarkably integrated in racial terms. Although the bar was not known as a lesbian hangout, lesbians were sometimes in attendance, and one story suggests that a butch lesbian cross-dresser might have been the instigator of the riot. Jim Fouratt, one of Du-berman’s witnesses, reported that he was unable to get his friends from “the Left” to join in the second-night fight, but if leftists didn’t “get it” from the start, in less than a year gay liberation was on the agenda at every radical event, and Fouratt himself—as a gay politico—was a star speaker at the legendary “Free the Panthers” rally on the New Haven green on May Day, 1970.
Craig Rodwell, another witness, said in an earlier interview, for the documentary film Before Stonewall, that what was most magical about the Stonewall riot was that “everything came to-gether that night.” Somewhere in the existential depths of that brawl of screaming transvestites were all the antiwar marches, the sit-ins, the smoke-ins, the freedom rides, the bra-burnings, the levi-tation of the Pentagon, the endless meetings and broken hearts. Not only that, but the years of gay men and lesbians locking them-selves in windowless, unnamed bars; writing dangerous, anony-mous novels and articles; lying about their identity to their families, their bosses, the military; suffering silently when they were found out; hiding and seeking and winking at each other, or drinking and dying by themselves. And sometimes, not often, braving it out and surviving. It’s absolutely astonishing to think that on one early summer’s night in New York that world ended, and a new one began.