The upcoming premiere of the movie “Stonewall” (directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Jon Robin Baitz) has provoked calls for a boycott by the predicable crowd, since the central character is a gay white cis male.
As the negative comments to the trailer show, the myth of Stonewall is alive and thriving—that the bar was frequented by people of color and drag queens who started and led the subsequent riots. Alas, actual Stonewall veterans and real historians note that the Stonewall was, in fact, a mostly young white male kind of place. Photos reveal a clientele that, if not quite preppie was certainly more middle-class than lumpenproletariat, although local drag queens joined the riot once it got underway.
Back in 1999 IGF posted Stonewall Revisited by historian Eric Marcus, who noted, “The story of what really happened at Stonewall has yet to be distorted and embellished beyond the point of recognition, but it’s well on its way.” And in 2002, we ran The Myth of the Transsexual Stonewall by Dale Carpenter, who wrote: “It is wrong to characterize the Stonewall Inn as having been a sanctuary for genderqueers (unless that term encompasses non-transgendered gay men).”
Eric Marcus wrote:
The Stonewall Inn attracted an eclectic crowd, from teenage college students like Morty Manford to conservatively dressed young men who stopped in with their dates after the theater or opera. “It was a different mind-set then,” recalled Dawn Hampton. “On weekends, men dressed up. A lot of them were dating and they would dress in coat and tie.” …
The Stonewall Inn was not a generally welcoming place for drag queens, although as Martin Duberman notes, “…a few favored full-time transvestites, like Tiffany, Spanola Jerry, a hairdresser from Sheepshead Bay, and Tammy Novak… were allowed to enter Stonewall in drag…”
These posts sought to put historical fact above politically correct and fashionable narrative, to little success. And thus the calls to boycott the Stonewall movie for failing to show the fabled bar as it was not, but (for many) ought to have been.
When the legend becomes fact, print (or film) the legend?
More. Writing at Advocate.com, Stonewall veteran Mark Segal, now the publisher of Philadelphia Gay New, shares his views (and why he opposed the boycott). He writes:
Once Stonewall was raided and the crowd became angry and it looked as though something might happen, only drag queens, homeless kids, people like me who thought they had no future, and a few activists stuck around.
Who am I to argue with an eye witness? But I’ll just note that then-kids like Segal himself and other Stonewall veterans/instigators, such as Morty Manford and Marty Robinson, may have felt marginalized and that they had nothing to lose, but were in fact from white working- or middle-class families, college-educated if not actually still students. And, in the case of these three, also Jewish. So no, not all street people and drag queens of color.