Muffins, as I get older, I am acutely aware that I am turning into the gay version of Andy Rooney. I’m irritable, cranky and if my bushy eyebrows are left unclipped they quickly evolve into their own sentient beings. But as Andy would probably love to say on prime time network television, “Here’s what really burns my ass!”
It freaking kills me when I hear young gay people today bitch and moan about their horrible oppression and how hard their openly gay lives are. I just want to smack them up the side of their pointy little faux-hawked heads (yes, politically correct gay and lesbian hall monitors, I know I am implying violence, so please forward your self-satisfied emails of outrage and disgust to email@example.com where I will promptly ignore them). This realization really hit home after I recorded the “Stonewall Uprising” episode from the excellent PBS documentary series American Experience.
As we go into the Gay Pride season with all our parades, rainbows and baton twirling, I wonder just how many people really know exactly what we are celebrating? Well, for those of you who don’t, and all of those anti-gay haters out there that think Pride is just an excuse to wear boas and ass-less chaps, Gay Pride is the remembrance of the tipping point when gays and lesbians finally said “enough is enough” and fought back against real oppression. Namely the Stonewall Inn riots of June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York City.
In the short version of history, the “Stonewall Uprising” has been reduced by constant retelling over time to being called the “Stonewall Riots” which doesn’t really do justice to the zeitgeist of the era (yes, gay and lesbian “Generation Texters,” I know, I used zeitgeist in a sentence, so please forward your indignant twitter of outrage, confusion and disgust to Ruby Ridge, yada, yada, yada…). There were so many important precursory conditions that enabled the Stonewall Uprising to occur that we never talk about. The constant police brutality and harassment against gays, the mafia’s financial exploitation of gays (nothing pisses off a queen more than an over-priced watered-down cocktail!), and even the campaign to clean up the streets for tourists visiting the World’s Fair way back in 1965. Add to that the stifling heat of Manhattan in June, and things are gonna get rowdy!
What the documentary points out so well was the backlash that occurred when the city administration ordered a crackdown of the city’s cruising areas, notably the trucking areas and docks west of the village, where anonymous sex occurred in the empty trucking containers, and the targeting of the gay bars by the police. Ostracized gays from all over the country had found refuge in Greenwich Village long before Chelsea ever became hip. They promenaded openly along Christopher Street and claimed the area as their own. Because bars, clubs and restaurants could lose their licenses for having one known homosexual on their premises, most establishments wouldn’t serve gays. So ironically, the Mafia bars like the Stonewall Inn, despite making obscene money by serving gays, while also paying off the local beat cops, became the default gay community centers of their day. Who knew?
And as much as I would like to say drag queens were the pivotal energy behind the riots, the main grounding force according to the documentary were the street kids and hustlers who quite literally “had nothing to lose.” Anyhow pumpkins, this Pride season take a moment to think about those pioneers in the West Village who endured savage beatings and real ostracism so that we can have the freedoms that we enjoy, and often forget today. Ciao, babies!
You can see Ruby Ridge and the Matrons of Mayhem in all of their polyester glory at Third Friday Bingo every Third Friday of the month at 7 p.m., at First Baptist Church on 777 S. 1300 East.