Occasionally in life we have the great fortune of crossing paths with history. One of mine is knowing a woman who witnessed the Stonewall Riots. I’d asked her to contribute a post to our “Generations of Pride” series celebrating Stonewall 50, and she graciously wrote two. It was probably two months prior to the anniversary when I asked her and had no idea what I might be doing then. But as I said, occasionally we cross paths with history, and when we do we need to Save Our Stories.
Lawrence Pfeil, Jr., June 28, 2022
“Stonewall Remembered: Fifty Years, Two Witnesses”
(Originally posted June 28, 2019)
In June 1969, I was a 27 year old woman (closeted to myself and the world) enjoying drinks with my friends at a Greenwich Village bar. Someone came in and said “hey, the queers are rioting down on Christopher Street.” We all decided to go see what was happening. Walking down West 4th street to 7th avenue, we heard shouts and chanting. I don’t recall seeing any violent behavior on the part of the police or the demonstrators. We watched for a while and then returned to the bar. Not being part of the protest and closeted on the fringes, little did I know of the influence on my life, community, and neighborhood that these riots would have.
Flash forward seventeen years to 1986, the Gay Rights bill is passed in the City Council. Now, an out lesbian, I took the same walk down West 4th street hearing cheers and singing coming from Sheridan Square. My heart was filled with joy because I now understood what those who rioted had done for me and my friends and my people.
Read this contributor’s earlier “Generations of Pride” post
It’s September 1996, I was a late bloomer and have only been out two years to myself and my friends all of whom said, “what took you so long?” It never occurred to me at the time, but I had come out during “Stonewall 25.” Before moving to New York City in I came out to my mother who said, “I wish you never told me.”
Since coming out I’ve been fascinated with our Community’s history and never understood those of us who don’t know or care about its vibrant story and heritage. I could not wait to see my first Pride March in the birthplace of the LGBT Community!
When I watched that March in June 1997, it was the last time. I was so overwhelmed with pride and emotion I could no longer be a spectator; I had to march. The following year as part of the LGBT Center’s unit, I marched across Christopher St in front of Stonewall. The rush of empowerment, energy, and exhilaration was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Being part of something bigger than yourself, connecting with the generations of people who paved the way, was an instant recharge for the spirit to fight on for another year.
It happens every time, on the last Sunday in June.
The police raid prompting our founders to say “enough!” occurred around 1AM on June 28th so last night I decided to take a late-night trip and bear witness to a moment fifty years in the making. Arriving in the Village before midnight (the synchronicity of NYC’s first summer heatwave was not lost on me). I walked around Sheridan Square, Christopher St., Seventh Ave, retracing the steps protesters took around the block to Julius’s and then to Stonewall.
Along the way, I saw a man wearing a T-shirt saying, “BOOT EDGE EDGE.” It is Stonewall 50 and an openly gay, married man is run for president of the United States. In their wildest dreams, the men and women who fought back on these very streets 50 years ago could not have imagined it.
I almost started crying.
As I stood, in front of Stonewall watching people lined up to get in and take pictures in front of the neon sign, a group showed up with a banner reading, “Every Black Lesbian knows Stormé DeLarverie started the Stonewall Riots.” There’s been a lot of talk recently about who started the riot, like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. While living in New York, I’ve attended events where two different notable gay men have said they were the one who pushed the cop off them when they were being arrested inside Stonewall.
Who started Stonewall will probably be a contentious subject forever, but I’d argue what really matters is this. Stormé, Jerry, Marsha, Danny, Miss Major, David, Sylvia, Jeremiah, and hundreds of others didn’t just fight back that night; they came back again, and again, and again over the next four nights.
One fact, not in contention is some the first protesters on the scene outside of Stonewall in the wee hours of June 28th began throwing pennies at the “coppers” who had raided the bar and begun hauling patrons out to waiting patty wagons. Before leaving home last night, I pocketed a handful of pennies. Just after midnight, I placed them on Stonewall’s windowsill in tribute to all the people courageous and tenacious people 50 years ago, whose names we know, names we’ve forgotten, and names we’ll never know.
Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.
Read our previous Pride Month 2022 posts