What Do We Have in Common?
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I have to say, I feel for the people who got it wrong because if somebody came up to me, and was, like, what is this thing? I be like I dunno. Ulysses grant. To answer. Yes, I love the person who said it was a programming because what even is that's what I'm saying. That's absolutely. What my brain would do. I would misfire sure same. Okay, but all kidding aside calf. It is the fiftieth anniversary of the stonewall, riots, the famous uprising that happened in New York in June of nineteen sixty nine yes. And as our favor montage person said it was the night that the gays fought back when the police raided the stonewall in a gay bar casts as you and I have talked about other than like the very basic fact you know that there was an uprising in core. People fought the police. It's actually kind of hard to give a definitive account of stonewall like who is there? What happened? There's just like a lot of conflicting stories right? Which, you know is kind of to be expected for something that happened fifty years ago, for sure. But also, maybe there's something to be learned from all the different stories. We tell about that night, which is why we've invited historian Mark Stein to the studio. Mark just published a book called the stonewall riots a documentary history where he sifted through a ton of different counts of. What happened at the stonewall inn on the night of the uprising and in the days that followed and he's going to help us unpack some of these stonewall minutes. So let's welcome to the show. Mark. Hello, mark. Hey Mark, thank you, so Mark in the sort of Lor of what happened at stonewall. There's a lot of let's call them facts that have been rip seated again over and over again. So we wanted to run a couple by you just to maybe do a little debunking and the first one, we're going to start with is one that I hear a lot. And in fact, rupaul actually just talked about it on this season of drag race and stated, it as fact fed up with Lisa restaurant the patriots of the stonewall used their grief over judy's Jess to rise up and fight back and the gay liberation movement was born. Wow. Did Judy Garland's funeral actually spark these stonewall riots? Well of the thirty or so media accounts that I've reprinted in my book. There's one that mentions the connection to the Judy Garland funeral. So I wouldn't say that there's no chance but there's very little evidence from the time that, that really played an instigating factor. The theory that I work with is actually one that was invoked at the time by a few gay reporters. But was sort of lost as an explanation for what happened and it drew on actually a very famous sociological theory about what causes revolutions, and it's a theory that says revolutions happened, not when conditions are at their worst, and not when conditions are slowly improving, but when a period of improvement in social conditions is followed by rapid reversal disillusionment and despair, and there had been improvements in social conditions in the second half of the sixties for LGBT people. And then there's the election of Nixon in sixty eight and his inauguration in early, sixty nine and then there's a series of police killings of gay men in New York, and on the west coast in the months leading up to the stole riots. So I'd be more likely to I am more likely to argue that growing sense of disillusionment despair that helped create the mood in the bar and on the streets during the riots. So what you're saying is most likely not Judy Garland's funeral. That's right. You very effectively. Boiled down, my long winded answer. I can give you the five word answers, if you like the other questions, you're gonna ask who exactly started the riot. If there's one person because I feel like I always hear that it was Marsha p Johnson. The chance gender activist were referred. I can't give a fiver dancer, too. So to begin with to the people who are very often credited with starting the riots. Marsha p Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Very interesting very complicated. And very important figures in the late sixties and early. Seventies in LGBT politics in New York, they themselves offered conflicting accounts about whether they were there when the ride started, and I think we have to begin with their own words, and I think more often than not, they did not indicate that they started the riots. I think there are more reliable accounts that single out stormy delivery often identified as by racial or African American often identified as a Butch, lesbian. But I guess I would also say I don't think there was any one moment, or one thing rights or really complicated phenomena. And it's one moment leading. To another moment, leading to another moment. Why guess in talking about how violent God or how serious, the riots were, you know, I've sometimes heard that, like a molotov cocktail was thrown at the cops to ignite, the riots. I don't even know what a malt of cocktail. It's the cloth doused in gasoline in a bottle that you light on fire and. West. They're even a molotov cocktail involved for I can't or deny. Tell me there were there are certainly reports that when the police got trapped inside the bar that there were all sorts of objects being thrown at the stonewall inn coins were being thrown anything people could find on the street bricks. And then there was apparently an attempt to light the bar on fire the account that I recall is one that says that lighter fluid was scored it on the building, and someone tried to light a match and then the police inside. We're trying to use water hoses to prevent the fire from starting. A lot of people say that stonewall is what kicked off the gay liberation movement. Is this true? Will think many of us who study? Queer history are really working against the popular myth that the LGBT movement began at stonewall. It's pretty well established now that the movement began twenty years earlier and historians have now documented more than thirty LGBT protests demonstrations, sit ins even riots before the stonewall, riots, those activists saw themselves as part of the Revolutionary Movement of movements. They were aligned with the Black Panthers. And with the counterculture the sexual revolution. And women's liberation they participated in anti war activism. So that was all beginning to happen in the months leading up to stonewall stonewall, all the credit events in America's history. Why is that the most pivotal, I think it would partly was the level of violence on the street. The. Length of the riots, the fact that it played out over several days, the number of people involved. But ultimately, I think, really what made stonewall so central in the way we imagined queer and trans history is what happened afterwards, the fact that it led to mass mobilization social diversification political radicalization, and then the decision to start commemorating the riots one year later that really built into the pride parades and marches and protests that now have been going on for five decades. Mark. Thank you so much for talking to us to be here. As Mark said, the stonewall riots fifty years ago, led to a pride parade the following year that laid the groundwork for even more marches, and activism, and protests, one of the groups leading the charge was called the gay Liberation Front Karla Jay was a leader in that group and the first woman to be chair, but before the uprising, she was just a twenty two year old living in New York, who wanted a safe place to hang out with their friends and be herself. The boars were oppressive, and we went there, because we're grateful to be there to have a place to go, and there was no place, except the board to go other lesbians in bars they train, you, you know, when I was a baby dyke, and I went to a bar I was told look you see over there with the police come in their lights are going to go on their rather, the white, they're gonna flash if those lights flash and your dancing. With somebody stop dancing. It was a legal to dance with someone of the same sex. If you're wearing, you know, a tie pull it off. Get rid of that thing. So they taught me to count before I went to the bar because you had to wear three pieces of women's clothing, but nineteen sixty nine if you were wearing a pair of jeans and zipped up the front, those were men's pants. So if the police came in and they saw a fly in the front, the police would then pull you into the bathroom and strip you to see whether or not you had three pieces somewhere. Wow. Do you remember where you are, when you first heard that the stonewall riots were happening? Yes, I think I'm the only lesbian in New York, who was not in the stonewall or game. I was not there. I usually on the Saturday night. I went to the movies, and it was much cheaper than going to the bars. On Saturday night. So my choice was the double feature, and the next morning, I heard about the stone will uprising on the radio and I was amazed that people had resisted, but I didn't know where would go. I mean I didn't have a crystal ball. I thought, well, the fourth of July is coming all the gay men. I know the go off to fire island and that will be that won't it but it didn't you wench the second night. Check it out and see what was happening. What was the scene, Mike? When you got there, I, I went down to the stonewall to see what was happening like everybody else I got off in. There were police barricades on the streets around the stonewall and mostly. The people were on the side streets over Bhai Waverly, and Perry of the square and people were yelling and shouting, and you couldn't get in front of the stonewall, but it was the gay Liberation Front that changed everything the. Fact that we organized that we commemorated the stonewall uprising with a March that we decided we weren't going to take this garbage any more from the police that we weren't going to be treated in this fashion again. Yeah. We didn't always get along. But we decided that we could share a goal. Yeah. We could share this goal of changing the world that the world had to change that we couldn't go on being in bars where any minute the police were gonna come in and ruin our lives, can you describe what the scene was like, in those early meetings, and what were those conversations like about trying to get organized someone chaired each meeting? But we sat there mostly we screamed at each other. And so we had equal opportunity screaming in there. And we very quickly divided into what we called cells, and the cells then got the work done. So in the dish. Into the query and sell which organized social activities. We had some political cells, which organized demonstrations. You reference that there was in those early meetings. A lot of screaming what why screaming and what was it about, you know, when you look at our community. I mean, this is really our issue now. And we still have the same issues today. If you look at the LGBTQ A plus plus plus community, what do we really have in common? We haven't common that those big it's out there. Hate us all the same way they don't see us as different people. They think we're all these reprehensible queers that they hate. And when you get down to the root of that, that held us together, but it also made people angry, you know, the trans people the people of color, the women, the bisexual 's these people, all felt that their voices were not being heard in the Galeb ration- front, and the more their voices could not be heard the louder the show. Oh, that amid sort of disagreements, and trying to get organized in that sort of thing, what do you think the group did well or right? I think that our idea that we had to change society. Whereas the previous organizations which deserve tremendous credit. They felt that they had to present themselves, as looking like an acting like straight people, and the venture -ly mainstream society would realize that we weren't a threat, and they would accept us. We felt that straight society had to change and be more like us that we had a lot to offer them fashion. Tips, just for starters, you know, and new ways of interacting. We're not going to be the carbon. We were going to be the original, we were going to go forward. We're going to have different ways of relating we were going to develop our own culture. We're going to develop her own ideas, and in LA. Let them follow us. This was a very novel and revolutionary idea. And I'm really sorry, that we've lost this society needs to be more like us, they still was there a moment or a change that happened because they Galeb ration- front, where you were able to look at it and say we did that, like we accomplish that I think the most amazing thing that we accomplished was working on the first March. We were part of the organizers of what was called Christopher street liberation day committee, that formed the first pride March. There was actually a March one month after the stone will uprising where a small group of fifty people met in Washington square park at six PM and walked very quickly back to the stone will because they're never been an BT March. And we did. Did not know if people would cheer us or throw bottles at us in the village, we said off the sidewalks into the street and people were so afraid people were frayed to go up the street. The what would happen if someone saw them, they could lose their jobs. If they were married they lose their children. The laws were so repressive in nineteen seventy. So when we did that and then fifty years later, the people of the world have joined us. Carlo. Thank you so much for coming in. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast. So we've been talking a lot about stonewall and the activism that grew out of it, and it got us thinking about where we are right now as a clear community. How do we continue the work of the folks who started this movement? Coming up. We talked to activists Raquel Willis about where we go from here. Nancy is supported by tomboy X makers of thoughtfully crafted gender-neutral underwear for all the ways you see yourself, don't let them suits that don't fit. Don't flatter. And don't stay put when you move ruin your summer checkout tomboy swimwear comeback somewhere is comfortable flattering stays in place, whether you're swimming volleyball, or out on the town, choose from some shorts boy, shorts razorback tops and much more. Tomboy x dot com slash Nancy and check out their awesome swimmer collection in Nancy listeners, get an extra fifteen percent off with code Nancy. Hey, this is Kathy toban hosts of the WNYC studios podcast, Nancy this month marks fifty years since the uprising at the stonewall inn here in New York's Greenwich Village an event that some consider to be one of the catalysts for the LGBTQ civil rights movement. And to commemorate, this moment, we've curated some of the best episodes from the great podcast at WNYC, the celebrate queer stories invoices. It's called. The sound of pride stonewall fifty subscribe to the sound of pride stonewall at fifty for free wherever you get your podcasts. So cast, we're at this fiftieth anniversary moment of stonewall for celebrating pied months and thing you and I have talked a lot about is this feeling of like conflict, because, you know, pride grew out of a riot and activism, and this feeling over ballion and so to see pride now with all the parties and parades. And like glitter. Yes. Why must there be so much glitter? Yeah, there's a lot of glitter. I feel very complicated about it because I want to be able to celebrate. But how do I square that with, also really feeling like a lot of stuff right now? Just not great for queer people totally. And this came up in a recent op at that recall, Willis wrote for out magazine. You mean the one called pride month this disgrace? Yes. Yes. Well, the official title is fifty years, later pride month is a disgrace to our ancestors. And in it, she writes with the power and resources that have been crude in the last. Fifty years, none of us should be suffering, especially not the Sylvia's and marshes of today. The rights never actually ended. Let's ensure that one day, they actually do recall is the executive editor at out, but she's also been a major leader for queer and trans rights. She spoke at the women's March in DC back in twenty seventeen. She's also started a project for the transgender Law Center, called black transferable if oh, Casses on providing resources for black trans women. So like she's been out there really doing the work we wanted to talk to her about where pride has. Maybe you lost its way, and how to fix it. So she came into the studio, and we started by asking, if she's always been so willing to call things out when I was growing up. I mean, my dad was very traditional, you know, masculine southern man, and so a lot of times if he said something, and you just wouldn't challenge him on an even though you knew it was like it, correct. Or wrong. I was like probably like five, and I told my mom was like, you know, you don't have to do this, this way, because he says that, you know, my mom was just like you just have to pick your battles. And, and I didn't get it at the time, right? 'cause I was like, well, we have to fight every battle, I think I still try to fight every battle exhausted. Same. So, yeah, recap has never been afraid to stand up and speak her mind. She told us, she's inspired by the stonewall veterans. She's had a chance to interview over the years, like miss major a black chance activists who was on the front lines of the stonewall uprising and helped to usher in the modern day trans movement her talking about how the police were out there. You know, like a line of like storm troopers and how every time they would try to get up if they were not down. It was like a tidal wave crashing into a city that image is so different from this kind of rainbow glitter filled image that we have of pride from all your home stations. Is there like a certain type of activism that you think is more effective than others? I think that there is such an devaluing and a racing of the power of actual grassroots organizing, I think about even, you know, the people who do the HIV advocacy at the club on, you know, Thursday night and, you know, they're trying to get their friends to like be a part of their survey, or, or do their testing and all of that stuff. And then their, their friends are like Nogal and trying to dance that is organizing is to me. It's those elements that get so glossed over and this larger conversation around activism solely being about visibility. I mean hearing Raquel talk about visibility versus activism. It makes me think a lot, especially during this month of pride, you know, like it is amazing that you can see where people be the faces of major campaigns and like that is affirming for people to see themselves reflected in media, and whatever. But that inherently is not the same thing as activism, because like activism is defined by verb, like active doing things. And so what recalls talking about him what you really makes me think about is how like it is about going out, and making change, and actively doing that. It's not just about like do we see ourselves reflected, which is amazing. It's about. Are we doing the things that we need to do to make change happen in one of the big things recounted issue with in how we celebrate pride today? Is that it feels like our history gets forgotten? So when I talk about. How we need to dig deeper with pride month. I'm not critiquing. The fact that we should be able to celebrate who we are and have a party. I mean queer folks can party, you know, that's one of our superpowers, but that also means that we can have a real conversation about s-. What that celebration looks like and how that celebration isn't the same as acknowledging an honoring what happened at stonewall inn in nineteen sixty nine because we know that the mood of that night, it was fury. It was Farber it was anguish it was fresh stray Shen, you know, it was a riot a rebellion. So in critiquing pride. I hope in the fiftieth celebration. We will have a real conversation about the ways that all of these forces are still plaguing our community. So Tobin like you read the piece recall writes about a bunch of things, she thinks we can fight for to carry the torch of the older generation, and I feel like things that she wrote about that really resonated, with me are ending the murders of black trans women legalizing sex work, making sure that Healthcare's available to everyone. And right now, the mainstream way of celebrating pride sometimes overlooks the problems that we should be fighting against even within our own community like racism and transphobia in misogyny, right? There's still a lot of stuff that needs fixing. So we ask how what she thinks this movement should look like in fifty years, like, what is the goal? I hope I'm obsolete in the future. But you mean by obsolete. I'm not fighting for future generations to experience the world, the way I am with, you know, my baggage, my insecurities miam- filling being silence raised, and my trauma, and I think that necessitates thinking about the ways in which we define ourselves, maybe by trauma or define ourselves by our struggle, and not by what we hope to see not by what actually brings us power. And I hope that when we come to some conclusions around how we can define ourselves beyond what harm has happened to us, or what trauma has happened to us, then maybe we'll have more of a liberty for future. So we started this episode with this question of what should pride be? You know, is it a protest isn't a party, because those two things feel like they're in opposition of each other? And, you know, RIC hell also talks about how we really need to do more to remember our history. But also, she doesn't want the struggle to be what defines Queen us. So that's also kind of contradictory, which she totally recognizes. Yeah, but if anyone can make all these contradictions work, it's queer people, right? Like this is something we've talked about before, where people are not just our trauma were not just fabulous where both we contain all of those things totally and I actually think pride should be both a celebration and a protest. And they shouldn't exist without each other, like we have to acknowledge how far we've come and take joy in that. But also keep in mind, how much they're still is to fight for. All right. That's the show and Tobin. You know what else it is? It's the end of Nancy season four. That's right. It's a wrap people we put on a story every week since September. And now it is time to take a break. Can we just pause for a second and talk about how many amazing stories we've done, we've done many himmy with some of your favorites? I got to talk to my very favorite singer. Songwriter, her name is Katie, her Zagan spent time with her Nashville, and we like walked around hung out amazing, you lost your damn mind. I threatened to quit if you didn't let me go. What about you? I mean, do you mind listing style? So I love talking to people that money. I love talking to a son trying to give his data kidney, I loved asking queer car, mechanic about all of our dumb car questions. If you're confused right now, you should go listen to all of this episode's. We have such back catalogue now. It's true. And we have so many exciting plans for next season. We're gonna be researching recording interviewing and that's what we're off to do. Make great stories to the members who support this show with donation. Thank you, as always, and make sure to check your inbox because we sent you a special update about our plans, and while we're on break, you can keep up with us through the friends of Nancy Facebook group. If you're not a member now is the time to join we'll be checking in regularly with the group before, you know, it, we'll be back and better than ever. Okay. Our producer Kia gibbon production. Fellow Tammy fact, editors stuff, Joyce sound designer Jeremy bloom, executive producer, polish Schuman. I'm Cathy to I'm Tobin low in Nancy's action of WNYC studios. Ha ha, hee hall.