James Kirchick takes on the myth makers, including the Human Rights Campaign, writing:
Contemporaneous press accounts and the most credible scholarship both confirm that the crowd which partook in the Stonewall uprising was primarily not trans, female, and of color, but gay, male, and white. …
Put aside the question of whether the people described as “draq queens” 50 years ago would today identify as transgender (some might, many would still identify as drag queens, that is, gay men impersonating women)—by most accounts they were relatively few in number.
And yet, as Kirchick notes, we have the big lie perpetually repeated:
“Harassed by local police simply for congregating, Stonewall’s LGBTQ patrons—most of whom were trans women of color—decided to take a stand and fight back against the brutal intimidation they regularly faced at the hands of police,” asserts an article on the website of HRC.
What might have been a laudable effort to highlight the role of transgender people alongside gay people in a major historical event has been corrupted by an effort to expunge gay people, and gay men in particular, from that story. After the AIDS epidemic nearly destroyed a generation of gay men, the stealing of Stonewall amounts to a second erasure.
Kwame Anthony Appiah writes:
>>Today, a new generation of political and social activists are inclined to speak of “allyship,” by which they typically mean an arrangement where prospective allies submit to the direction of the marginalized group, like deferential guests in someone else’s home. The vision here is remote from true coalition building, from a partnership of mutual respect, from a politics grounded in overlapping moral perceptions.<<And again:
Some historians like to claim socialist ideas helped bring about gay rights in the modern era. But they’re mistaking academic theory for reality….Those gay intellectuals talked a lot about socialism, but they lived in capitalism. And it was the capitalist reality, not the socialist dreams, that liberated gay people.
Some of us can remember when socialists, unlike libertarians, were adamant about not associating their movement with something as disreputable as gay rights.
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.
The Google Doodle today honors Jane Addams, founder of social work in America, pacifist, women’s rights activist, immigration assimilationist, “Boston marriage” participant, and key figure in a dozen social reform movements including those promoting probation and juvenile courts in the criminal justice system.
I didn’t recall ever seeing her discussed by libertarians, but it turns out Milton Friedman cited her alongside Florence Nightingale and Albert Schweitzer as an example of the philanthropic achievements that can be “the product of individual genius, of strongly held minority views, of a social climate permitting variety and diversity.” To give the other side its due, Stephen Hicks discusses some of her less attractive Progressive instincts here.
On the Boston marriage, by the way, see coverage in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, and WBEZ. Addams’ devoted lifelong companion was Mary Rozet Smith, with whom she spent thirty years until the two died a year apart. Reports WBEZ, “They also made major financial decisions, such as co-owning a home in Maine. At one point they considered adopting a child together.”
Addams’ best-known contribution may have been as the American champion of the settlement house movement, which reached out to distressed immigrants to help them solve their problems with an emphasis on education and assimilation to middle-class American standards, as well as social reform more broadly. Today’s progressivism finds it somewhat complicated to deal with such a legacy, which may be one reason she has been suffering an eclipse from her previous status as possibly the most admired American woman ever.
My tribute to Frank Kameny at Pridesource/Between the Lines, more extensive and personal than the one I posted here last week.