Friday, September 21, 2007
In the later 1960s, the Stonewall Inn was one of the few gay bars in New York where the management allowed dancing: there was a jukebox pumping out Motown, but only when the police weren’t looking. If Lily Law or Betty Badge were spotted, a light came on to warn people to stop dancing or touching. Cops often called by checking ID and that everybody had the legally required three pieces of clothing 'appropriate to one’s gender'. In June 1969, the police raided again - Jayne County describes what happened:
Something happened in the summer of 1969 that changed my life, although it wasn't until years later that I recognised it anything terribly important. I was on my way to the Stonewall [Inn] one Friday night in June, and when I got to Sheridan Square there was a bit of a commotion in the street. One of the regulars came rushing over and told me that the police had raided the Stonewall, roughed up a lot of the queens, stuck them behind the bar and done sex searches on them to establish that they were men.
Miss Peaches and Miss Marcia, two of the mouthiest street queens in the Village, were really furious, and they'd run round to the front of the bar, shut the door, piled up trash against it and set fire to it while the cops were still in there. When I arrived there were scorch marks all over the door, and cop cars coming from all directions. Everyone was running around the Village going, 'They're raiding the Stonewall!' People began to gather and it grew and grew.
The queens got very vocal, and some of them started to pick things up and throw them at the police. At one point a police car came down Christopher Street, and five or six queens leapt on it and started jumping up and down on the roof, and the roof just caved in. More and more people arrived and started joining in.
Word was getting around. There were hundreds of people standing around wondering what to do. I was with a group of queens and we started walking up Christopher Street going, 'Gay power! Gay power! Gay power!' We walked all the way to 8th Avenue, and then we looked at each other and said, 'What do we do now?' So we turned around and walked all the way back down Christopher Street, still yelling, 'Gay power!' By the time we got back to the Stonewall there were hundreds more people there. They stopped the traffic. The buses couldn’t get through. People were screaming ‘Gay power!’ at the passengers on the buses. More fires were started.
At one point, we were on the corner of Sheridan Square, and we could see the police lining up along Greenwich Avenue with riot gear and shields and everything, so we all put our arms around each other and started dancing along singing, 'We are the Pixie Girls, we wear our hair in curls, we never play with toys, we'd rather play with boys,' to the tune of 'Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-de-Ay'. The policemen were laughing. In the end they cordoned the whole area off, and people were rioting there all night.
The riots went on for hours and hours and dispersed really late. The next night everybody just went down there and did it again. The bars were getting raided regularly, and people just got fed up. There was something in the air anyway; riots were happening a lot in America at that time - anti-Vietnam, anti-police, anti-whatever. If you were out and you heard something was happening, you'd say, 'Oh, let's go and be in the demonstration!'
The queens took the lead in the Stonewall Riots. They walked around in semi-drag with teased hair and false eyelashes on and they didn't give a shit what anybody thought about them. What did they have to lose? Absolutely fucking nothing. A lot of people were standing around as the Riots began wondering, '1 wonder if 1 should do this? It's going to be a big step for me, a big statement.' But for the queens it really wasn't. It was just an extension of the lives they were already living on the streets. Nowadays, the Stonewall Riots are regarded as the birth of gay liberation, but for me and the other street queens, it wasn’t such an amazingly important thing; we were already out there.
Source: Jayne County, Man Enough to be a Woman, Serpent’s Tail.