Oct. 03, 2012 - Issue #885: Fall Style 2012
Stonewalled in New York
A trip to NYC spurs reflections of the origins of gay rights
Two weeks ago I embarked on a long dreamt-of trip to New York City. Of course, I was excited about taking in all the art and culture and iconic landmarks, but what I was secretly most excited about was getting to see some New York sex shops! I was staying two blocks from Times Square, so you would think I would have a veritable smorgasbord just outside my doorstep. But former Mayor Rudy Giuliani cleaned up Times Square in the '90s. Instead of adult stores and massage parlours, Times Square is now filled with flagship retail shops and network television headquarters.
So to get my sex shop fix, I headed down to Christopher Street—Manhattan's gay community. Surely there I would get my fill of sex shops and gay bars. But when I emerged from the subway at Christopher Street, I was floored when I ran into not just gay bars, but THE gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. I thought cruising New York leather shops would be a fun time, but happening upon the Stonewall meant so much more.
The Stonewall Inn is the bar that is widely considered to be the flashpoint for the gay rights movement in New York, if not all of North America.
In June of 1969, the New York City Police raided the Stonewall. This was, sadly, nothing new. At that time, the police regularly raided gay clubs and arrested people who were involved in any display of affection with someone of the same sex. Drag artists and men who dressed in ways that were considered to be feminine were also frequent targets. But on June 28, 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn decided they had had enough. They resisted arrest, turned on the police and forced the police to barricade themselves in the bar. A full-scale riot broke out. Several people were injured and 13 were arrested. Riots continued over the next few days. Our modern day Pride parades have their roots in those 1969 riots.
The Stonewall Inn closed shortly after the riots. The building was completely renovated and reopened again in the '90s. It got another facelift recently, reopening to the public in 2007. It may look very different than it did 40 years ago, but the Stonewall still stands in its original spot. It is still an active and vibrant gay bar. Even in its current state, it very much reflects and honours its history.
Across the street from the Stonewall is a small, quiet, triangular park surrounded by a low fence. In the park are four bronze figures, two men and two women—a monument put here to commemorate the incidents at Stonewall. George Segal, the artist who was commissioned to do the sculpture, was told that it "had to be loving and caring and show the affection that is the hallmark of gay people ... and it had to have equal representation of men and women."
When you think about it, this is all the patrons of the Stonewall wanted too—equal representation and the right to show love and affection just as everyone else does.
The monument is simple and beautiful and the park is a nice place to get away from the noise and busyness of New York. After more than 40 years of standing up and speaking out, the gay rights movement finally won a major battle. Last July, New York legalized same sex marriage. It is one of only six states in America to do so. There must have been quite the party at the Stonewall.
Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.
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