Stonewall, Schmonewall

There are a couple of things to say about the efforts to get the White House to issue a resolution on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

First, I suppose there is some value in trying to get the President to do something -- anything -- to recognize the fact that lesbians and gay men are engaged in a civil rights struggle on his watch. But many of us voted for this President because we believed he would actually do something to change the laws that formalize and institutionalize discrimination against us: in particular DADT and DOMA. Resolutions, like their cousin, rhetoric, are honeyed words. If we have to expend resources - and still get resistance - on mere words, what does it say about our expectations for anything substantive from the President?

Second, while Stonewall was an important symbolic event in the history of gay rights - even a "watershed" in the words of a congressional resolution - it is high time that the gay community stopped viewing it in isolation. Stonewall came almost two years after the Black Cat riots in Los Angeles had established the model of public resistance to police harassment and arrests of gay bars. That well-documented series of events in L.A., in February of 1967, may or may not have affected what happened in New York a couple of years later, but there is no doubt that Stonewall followed the rise of open gay pride that was already well-established on the opposite side of the country - and gets far more credit for this revolution than, in my opinion, it deserves.

Stonewall has become the brand name for gay rights - even here in California we have gay organizations named after it. But the Black Cat riots showed how organized L.A.'s gay community was two years before New York stole the spotlight from us.

7 Comments for “Stonewall, Schmonewall”

  1. posted by Deanna on

    I couldn’t care less whether Obama recognizes Stonewall. I think it would be great if he did, but I’d rather have him begin to fulfill his promises to lead on gay issues. I’d rather have him demand bills be passed that would repeal DADT and DOMA. I’d like for the president to get involved in the biggest civil rights issue of this generation. I’d like him to do the right thing.

  2. posted by BobN on

    Like it or not, American culture requires touchstones. It requires the reduction of broad swaths of history into “significant moments”. For the gay rights struggle, that moment has been set. It is Stonewall and there’s little anyone can do about it. We should be grateful, too, I suppose. It’s a pretty cool word, word-wise.

  3. posted by Bobby on

    Let’s say Obama does recognize this day, who’s gonna know? The story will be printed in the gay media, but not the straight media. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr’s day, students don’t have to learn about it. So what’s the point?

    I agree with Deanna, the time for symbolic gestures is over. The days when a president uttering the g-word was a big deal are gone.

  4. posted by The Guy By The Door on

    So, Betsy Ross didn’t sew the flag, so Washington didn’t fell a cherry tree. And while The Black Cat riots, of which I never heard, may have occurred, it wasn’t until the MEDIA made it important, that Stonewall became a watershed.

  5. posted by David Link on

    I have to agree with BobN that Stonewall works better than Black Cat as a rallying cry. That would have been particularly problematic at the time, since we’d probably have been sued by the Black Panthers for copyright infringement or something.

    As for The Guy By The Door, you’re right that the (east coast based) media made Stonewall what it was at the time. But history’s supposed to be better about providing perspective, which is what I’m interested in. Like New York, California is part of America — and as far better historians than I have pointed out, we hold an enormous chunk of gay history on these shores. I’ll be happy to duke it out with any New Yorker as to whose cultural accomplishments in this area are earlier or worthier. And I sez it’s California.

  6. posted by Jimbo on

    Not only does “Stonewall” roll off the tongue better, it occurred in June. Can you imagine holding gay pride parades in February (especially here in New England)?

  7. posted by Cathy on is a wonderful website.

    Gathered a lot of things whether you have thought or not.

    Go there,have a try.

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