Stonewall Uprising is coming up on the fiftieth anniversary and the rebellion has been rewritten by the Gays.
50 Years After Stonewall, We’re Still Disagreeing About What Happened There. That’s Why the Archives MatterAnd we still are!
By Jason Baumann
April 30, 2019
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a moment of resistance by LGBTQ people against homophobia and transphobia, police harassment and exploitation by organized crime. The conflict started in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, and continued for almost a week. The Stonewall Inn was an illegal club, operating without a liquor license, controlled by the mafia and regularly raided by the police. Stonewall was frequented by a range of LGBTQ patrons, mostly gay men, but also lesbians, drag queens and transgender and gender-nonconforming patrons. And beyond the clientele in the club itself, Stonewall existed in the larger context of Greenwich Village, where many queer and transgender youth were living on the streets, abandoned and rejected by their families and the society at large.
Given the tremendous gains made by LGBTQ activists in the intervening years, it can be difficult for people to remember the oppression suffered by LGBTQ people in the United States in the 1950s and ’60s. Homosexuality was illegal in almost every state in the U.S., with legal penalties ranging from three months in jail in New York to possible life in prison in Nevada. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the psychiatric profession; many LGBTQ people spent long hours in psychoanalysis attempting to be cured, and could also be subjected to electroshock therapy or involuntary institutionalization by psychiatrists and unaccepting families. In New York, LGBTQ people could be denied service in bars or arrested for wearing clothing that did not match their legally-assigned gender.
Luckily, there are archives that preserve the original documents from this pivotal time, including political leaflets, posters, little magazines and oral history interviews. The New York Public Library has preserved much of this history, and is presenting a range of these original documents for the public in the Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50 exhibition and a new anthology The Stonewall Reader. These resources allow us to encounter this original historical moment ourselves and better understand how it felt and what it ultimately meant.
One of these documents is this flyer “Where were you during the Christopher St. Riots?” produced by the Mattachine Society of New York shortly after Stonewall.
As those of us that have fought for our right age and pass away it is important that we keep our history alive.
Are you an activist?
Are you saving you correspondence?
I am, why are you not giving your history to be archived? Do you want our history to go the way of Stonewall where the gays claim credit for the uprising… “We were all gay” and as a result trans people and lesbians were written out of the history of Stonewall.
Many college libraries are now starting LGBTQ+ archives, I have donated my trans stuff to the Elihu Burritt Library at Central Connecticut State University. My donation includes the actual bill that Governor Malloy signed for the birth certificate law.
Three of the major archives are…
- The Sexual Minority Archives
- The Transgender Archives
- The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria