It Was Fifty Years Ago Today!
by BG “Ben” Thomas
“I got in an argument just recently with a young man in a club who just flat out denied that it had ever been illegal to be gay. He simply did not know that when I was his age, when I was just coming out, it was a felony. Every police department in every major city in this country had special sections whose sole purpose was to hunt down and imprison homosexuals—for consenting behavior between adults. That’s the reality I came out in.”
~~ Cleve Jones
Early in the morning on June 28th, 1969, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, the police raided a bar called the Stonewall Inn. It happened all the time. Judy Garland, a gay diva, had just died on the 22nd. On top of that, the Stonewall had just been raided, and so everyone knew it was safe, at least for a while. Plus, they had made their payoffs to the police as well.
The Stonewall Inn was a bar that gay people could go to and dance, together, close. Touch. Maybe find love. Imagine, a world where it was illegal to be GLBTQ. Imagine a world where it was illegal to serve alcohol to gay people. A world where it was considered a mental illness. A world where there was no Will & Grace, or Ellen, or Love, Simon or Gay Straight Alliance clubs in high school or acceptance in any way. If you were queer, you either hid it even to yourself, or hid it from your opposite sex spouse and got sex secretly in parks or bathrooms (where you could be arrested and your life ruined) or you ran away to gay ghettos in San Francisco or New York’s Village.
And imagine in that dreaded world, imagine finding community, and finding a bar where you could touch a member of the same sex, where you could dance…. It must have been exhilarating! Liberating! Unifying! And that night, fifty years ago, the Stonewall Inn should have been safe.
I always knew I was different. I was just so sheltered; I didn’t know what the difference was. We didn’t talk about sex in my home. And sex was only talked about in school as in, “Doesn’t she have a great set of tits?!” I was well read and intelligent and yet I had no idea I was gay. It shocks me when men tell me they knew when they were gay that they were in first or second grade. I was so totally sexually unaware, that I didn’t know what I was feeling for guys was sexual. In retrospect, it’s pretty ridiculous that I didn’t know, but I was that sheltered. Continue reading