Fight the Stonewall Lie

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.

He concludes:

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.

More Myths

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:

History Lesson: Capitalism, Not Socialism, Led to Gay Rights

Via David Boaz:

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 Stonewall Myth

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, 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.

Remembering Jane Addams

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.

Remembering Frank Kameny

I was in San Francisco yesterday, about to go on stage to deliver a National Coming Out Day lecture, when I learned of the death of Frank Kameny. He was 86, and he died peacefully at home, apparently of heart failure.

Frank is a giant of the gay rights movement, and I hope his passing gets the attention it deserves—both to honor a great man, and to remind everyone of important but neglected chapters of our history. When Dr. Franklin Kameny was fired from his government job in 1957 for being gay, there was no national gay civil rights movement. It took pioneers like him to make it happen.

A Harvard-trained Ph.D. and World War II veteran, Frank lost his job as an Army Map Service astronomer for being a homosexual. Unsure of his future employability and outraged by the injustice, he petitioned all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case. That firing and subsequent refusal sparked a tireless lifetime of activism.

(Incidentally, in 2009 the Federal Office of Personnel Management finally issued Frank a formal apology for the firing. In his inimitable style, he promptly replied that he was looking forward to his five decades of back pay.)

In 1961 Frank co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington D.C.—a “homophile organization” based on the original group in California.  Soon thereafter, in 1963, he began a decades-long campaign to revoke D.C.’s sodomy law. He personally drafted the repeal bill that was passed 30 years later.

In 1965, he picketed in front of the White House for gay rights. Signs from that demonstration, stored in his attic for decades, are now in the Smithsonian’s collection.

In 1971, he became the first openly gay person to run for Congress. (He came in fourth, which itself was a kind of victory given the anti-gay sentiment of the era.) He was instrumental in the battle that led to the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. He continued to fight over the decades against employment discrimination, sodomy laws, the military ban—unjust discrimination in all its forms.

Even in his 80s, Frank continued to send off pointed letters in pursuit of justice. He was fond of reminding me and other “young” activists, whenever he heard us complaining amongst ourselves, “Don’t tell us. Tell them. Contact the people who can do something about it.” (Even now I can hear his booming, irrepressible voice.) He served as an invaluable moral elder to me and multiple generations of gay activists, whom he constantly reminded of the slogan he coined in 1968: “Gay is good!”

One of my favorite personal experiences with him happened shortly after the 2004 documentary “Gay Pioneers” was released. Frank came to Detroit to speak at a screening of the film, and he visited my house for dinner. Frank was not much of a drinker, but when I offered after-dinner drinks in my living room, he asked if I had any peach schnapps. Oddly enough, I did, so I poured him some. Then some more, and more again, not really keeping track. Finally, when it was time to leave for the film, we all stood up…

…and Frank proceeded to trip over my coffee table and fall flat on the floor.

Everyone gasped. A news headline flashed before my mind: “Young gay writer kills veteran gay activist with cordial.” But then Frank laughed, spryly jumped up, and boomed in his unforgettable voice, “Too much peach schnapps!!!”

We proceeded to the movie, and as usual, Frank delivered a brilliant, commanding, rousing speech.

As soon as I fly home, I’ll be raising a glass of peach schnapps to Frank Kameny. Always remember: Gay is good.