Remembering the 'Stonewall Uprising'

Posted: June 25, 2010

It was a time of free love - if you were heterosexual. During the 1960s, Stonewall, a dingy bar in New York's West Village, was about the only place in Manhattan where gays and lesbians could dance in public.

It was also a time when homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness. Same-sex intercourse was illegal in 49 of the 50 states. "Masquerade," a 19th-century statute against dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex, was likewise punishable by law.

In order to rid the city of the scourge of long-haired men and short-haired women, police routinely raided gay bars where they would club and arrest patrons. But typically, before officers paid a call on (the mob-run) Stonewall, they alerted the owners, who alerted their customers. But on the night of June 28, 1969, the vice squad didn't call in advance. And when they came waving nightsticks, the dancers and drag queens fought back.

Stonewall Uprising is an important documentary - and a passionate and compassionate reconstruction of the historic standoff between police and pubcrawlers. Lucian Truscott IV, a journalist who was there, describes it as "the Rosa Parks moment" that gained momentum for the nascent gay-pride movement.

Another eyewitness, who remembers being part of civil rights and peace marches where protesters ran away from the police, says Stonewall was the first demonstration he was in where the police ran from the protesters. "Gay people weren't supposed to be threats to police officers," says another eyewitness, ". . . and here they were . . . attacking them and beating them."

Among the participants who share their vivid recollections with filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner are Seymour Pine, a retired vice-squad officer who led the raid, and Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, an artist who likewise remembers the night. While they were on opposite sides in 1969, their sympathies are in remarkable alignment today.

Rich with newsreel footage including the historic 1965 gay march on Philadelphia's Independence Hall and antihomosexual propaganda of the 1960s, the film gracefully telescopes a lot of information in its brief running time.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/

flickgrrl/.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|