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Posted By Subaltern Queer

Street Kids Fighting with the Police
 

Some of those picked up and then released by the police responded with mocking salutes in return. There were people throwing pennies at the police. A policeman pushed a transvestite and she hit him with her purse! A woman struggled with the police for at least ten minutes and she cried out "why don't you guys do something?" Sometimes you just need a woman to take charge.

That's when things got going. In trying to restrain the mob of people outside of Stonewall, the police started pushing people around. While the crowd had swelled to over 500, the picture above shows the street kids who slept in Christopher Park.

You might think: street kids--basically just a bunch of criminals. And at a bar! What would their parents think? But, even today, the reality is that there are many homeless teenagers (that is, children) whose parents have thrown them out of the house for being gay.

My former parish, All Saints Beverly Hills, has a very active ministry with kids connected to the Youth Center on Highland who are homeless because their parents don't want them. The Youth Center, though, only provides activities for the kids during the day and evening. At night, they sleep wherever they can on the streets. 

We can only begin to imagine just how difficult things would have been for homeless LGBTQ+ kids in 1969.

Not surprisingly, those kids were among the first people who pelted police with garbage, rocks, bottles--whatever they could find. You have to keep in mind that they really didn't have anything to lose. You also have to keep in mind that they were fighting for the closest thing to home they had.

And it was likely that Stonewall was also the main source of community for many there that night. To be brutally frank, back in those days, even 'liberal' All Saints Beverly Hills was just as unwelcoming--even to wealthy gays who had positions of respect--as virtually all of the churches of the time. It's a very sad and disturbing legacy, but one that we must not forget.

As you might imagine from a bunch of queers, they started dancing like the Rockettes and singing: 

We are the Stonewall girls

We wear our hair in curls

We don't wear underwear

We show our pubic hair

The police responded with violence. They rushed the chorus line and began hitting people with their clubs. You know just how dangerous people kick dancing can be, right? I mean, they were probably way more threatening than any hardened inmates at Alcatraz. Police have the right to protect themselves from gay dancers!

The police chased the queers down Christopher Street to Seventh Avenue. But the mob was much larger than the police and soon the police were being chased by the mob around the crooked streets (the Village has a maze of streets that is quite unlike the rest of New York City). Reports say that the queers were shouting "Catch them" as they chased the police. Gotta love the idea of the 'criminals' running to catch the police!

Meanwhile, back at the Stonewall Inn, almost everything that could be destroyed had been destroyed. Although it is still not definitively settled as to exactly who had caused the damage, I find it very hard to think that the gays would have destroyed their own home. Much more likely is that the police had done this with a clearly malicious intent. 

Unbeknownst to the patrons at Stonewall, the purpose of the police raid was to close the place permanently. One has to appreciate the irony of the contrast between the intent to close down Stonewall by the police and the way in which it has become a beacon of light for the LGBTQ+ community.

By about 4am, everything had quieted down. Most people left the streets and went home. I take it that the street kids headed, well, back to the streets. But that was only the first round. During the day on June 28, many people came by to see the remains of the Stonewall Inn. Quite a bit of grafitti appeared on what was left of Stonewall. One grafitto read "They Invaded Our Rights." Many others proclaimed the power of the LGBTQ+ community.

What sums it all up for me is the one that simply read: "We are open." You could read that as a business statement. "Despite the recent, um, difficulties, we have not been closed down."

Or you could read that as saying: "Despite your attempts to destroy our community, we are still open to anyone who wants to join us." That, at least as I see it, has always been the message of the Pride Parades. "We welcome anyone who wants to join us. Yes, we are a bunch of queers and misfits. But, if you think you'd find a home here among us, you are always welcome." 

If Jesus had appeared in New York City during the 60s, you can be sure he'd be hangin at the Stonewall Inn.

 

 
Posted By Subaltern Queer

Village Voice Stonewall Coverage

Given that the Stonewall Inn was raided about once a month, what made the raid on 28 June so different from all of the rest, in term of the result that night and the remarkable long-term effects? Why did this particular raid engender such a strong reaction?

Asking this question is significant because 1969 was a very different era. Today people across the world can watch protests unfold 24/7 on cable news. Even more significant, we are able to bypass any media 'filter' and see photos and videos of events posted by almost anyone. And protestors can phone or text or tweet to let all of their friends know what's happening in real time.

In contrast, even if you lived in New York and read the mainstream papers, you would not have realized that something big was happening. The big newspapers gave very little attention to the story and what they wrote was 100% from the viewpoint of the police.

The first story published (in the New York Times) was very brief. It was titled "Four Policemen Hurt in 'Village' Raid" and began with "Hundreds of young men went on a rampage in Greenwich Village shortly after 3 A.M. yesterday." So much for the supposed 'liberal' bias of the Times!

All of the major newspapers reported the story exclusively from the perspective of the police. That meant that the 'riots' were portrayed as 'violent uprisings' by gay people, who (as we noted yesterday) were criminals.

Since gays could be arrested as criminals, their names and their crimes would be reported in the 'police blotter'. "Mom and Dad, I'm gay" is a cakewalk compared to being outed in the Times. You would likely lose your job and certainly your reputation.

Exactly two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court made it illegal to treat LGBTQ+ employees differently from other employees. Up until that time, only in about half of the states were you protected. In the other half, you could be fired (or never hired) simply because you looked or sounded gay. Of course, the employer was not required to tell you that your supposed 'gayness' was the reason for being first.

In contast to the major New York newspapers, the story was given significant coverage front in The Village Voice. There were at least two reasons for that. One was simply that the Voice's office was just a few doors down from the Stonewall Inn, making the story hard to ignore. Another was that Howard Smith, a reporter for the Voice, ended up being trapped inside the bar, while Lucian Truscott (another reporter for the Voice) was outside.

Truscott's version of the story privileged the police perspective and was decidedly anti-gay. While it may sound shocking to us today, the Voice did not allow same-sex personal ads. So it was not quite so 'liberated' as one might think.

However, Smith's version gave 'voice' to the protestors. He pointed out that the protestors were simply “objecting to how they were being treated.” They were tired to being treated like criminals.

Michael Fader explains the feeling behind the protests in such a moving and forceful way that he is worth quoting at length:

We all had a collective feeling like we'd had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn't anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration. . . . Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us. . . . All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren't going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it's like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that's what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we're going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren't going to go away. And we didn't.

And that's how the movement began. One might say that it's how most movements of protest begin. "We've had enough of this shit. We may have taken it before, but we're not going to take it anymore. From now on, we demand that we be treated like human beings, rather than as animals and criminals." As Sylvia Rivera put it: "You've been treating us like shit all these years? Uh-uh. Now it's our turn!"

Movements start and then start to be taken seriously when it becomes clear that 'business as usual' is no longer possible. Once freedom is in the air, it's hard to put it back into the bottle.

But there is something even more significant about Stonewall in terms of becoming a movement. As someone out walking his dog that night noted: 

The cops were totally humiliated. This never, ever happened. They were angrier than I guess they had ever been, because everybody else had rioted. . . but the fairies were not supposed to riot. . . no group had ever forced cops to retreat before, so the anger was just enormous. I mean, they wanted to kill."

Moral of the story: Don't Mess with Fairies. The police are no match for them. Besides, fairies can riot and still look fab.

 

 
Posted By Subaltern Queer

Police Attack at Stonewall
 

Today marks the fifty-first anniversary of the beginning of the Stonewall 'event' in Greenwich Village that lasted until the 3rd of July 1969. Almost a week's worth of protests. On the 4th of July 1969, American Independence Day, the Mattachine Society held its 'Annual Reminder' of the oppression against what we now call the LGBTQ+ community in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The term 'riot' is often used to describe Stonewall, though one could term it an 'uprising' or a 'rebellion'. Note how even the terminology makes it sound like these folks were 'criminals'. In most people's minds, they were criminals. Their criminality is the focus of today's post. I will be writing about a different aspect of Stonewall each day through July 4th.

Simply the way in which the Stonewall Inn operated tells you quite a bit about how the LGBTQ+ community was viewed by society. The bar was owned by the mafia and had no liquor license, which meant that each week a police officer picked up an envelope of cash (called 'gayola' rather than payola) as a bribe. At the door, there was a peephole through which the bouncer examined everyone entering. You needed either to be a regular or 'look gay'. The goal was not to keep out the 'straights'; the goal was to watch out for the police.

You might wonder: was the place run by the mafia because no one else would have been willing to take on the perpetual danger of running a bar for gays that included dancing (which, to turn the old Evangelical joke around, might lead to sex)? Or did the bar operate without a license because, well, who was going to give a liquor license to a gay bar? Deep philosophical questions. 

Despite the gayola, police raids on Stonewall happened about once a month. They were such a regular thing that there was an established signal--turning on all of the lights--to warn that the police were there. Dancing and any kind of 'touching' were immediately to cease. As it turns out, there had already been a raid on Stonewall only four days before the one that turned into something famous.

The whole bit about the peephole makes it sound like a speakeasy. Except that Prohibition ended in 1933. In 1969, it was quite legal for people 18 and over to drink alcohol. However, it was quite illegal--in all but one of the states--for gay people of any age to have sex. So much for the 'Land of the Free'.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Paragraph 175 was used by the Nazis to send thousands of gay men to the camps. But those men, once 'liberated' by American and Russian soliders, were often sent back to prison since homosexual acts of virtually any kind were still criminal. Just looking at someone in a way that suggested sexual attraction was a crime. You didn't need to perform an actual sex 'act' to count as a 'criminal'. Just the desire made you criminal enough.

The draconian additions to Paragraph 175 were removed by the East Germans in 1950 and homosexuality was decrimininalized in 1957. Meanwhile, in 'free' West Germany, those Nazi prohibitions remained in full force. About 50,000 men were sent to prison between 1945 and 1969, when Paragraph 175 was severely limited (though not removed). Only the re-unification of Germany resulted in its full removal in 1994.

In case you're thinking--"at least we're not like the Germans"--it should be pointed out that Oscar Wilde did two years of hard labor for his homosexual crimes. You might say "oh, but that was the 19th century! We're modern now." You'll have to excuse me for mentioning Alan Turing, who was prosecuted in 1952 for his homosexuality. The Brits used a bonafide Nazi technique to 'cure' him: castration. Turing died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning, which may have been accidental but the official ruling was suicide. You can hardly blame Turing.

It's hard to believe that Turing, who was so brilliant and influential in helping end WWII, could have been treated so badly. But one must not forget that he was 'just a criminal' and so he could be treated any way 'society' dictated that criminals should be treated. Fortunately, the Brits did to their senses and officially 'pardoned' the approximately 50,000 men who had been prosecuted in the UK for homosexual crimes. But that was only in 2017.

The situation was hardly any better in the United States. Prior to 1962, sodomy was a felony in all fifty states. For those not familiar with such American criminal terminology, the maximum prison sentence for a 'misdemeanor' is a year, whereas a felony can put you away for a lifetime. It was the pioneering state of Illinois (where Wheaton College is located) that first did away with laws against 'consensual sodomy' (gotta love that terminology--I'm sure they do at Wheaton).

That meant that it was still illegal in forty-nine states and remained so for about a decade. Slowly, state-by-state, that began to change. In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down the sodomy law in Texas and thus in the remaining states (quite a significant segment of American society). In passing, it's worth mentioning that Virginia only made sex among unmarried people legal in 2005. Just think of all those fornicators who weren't just immoral but criminal.

One might think that the 2003 ruling would have been the end of criminalizing homosexuality. But one would be wrong. The list of the various states that slowly made changes to their laws in accord with that 2003 ruling would be far too long to include here. Yet the fact that Maryland only appealed its sodomy laws in May 2020 tells you something. By the way, that repeal doesn't take effect until October 2020. Only a few months to go!

In my posts to follow, I will be considering the intersection between the LGBTQ+ community's fight not merely to be accepted but no longer to be considered to be as criminals with the current Black Lives Matter struggles. While there is always a danger in equating things that are not exactly the same, it is often helpful to see similarities.

I remember trying to explain to wealthy, mainly white and suburban college students that one of the reasons why so few students at wealthy, white, suburban high schools were caught possessing drugs was that there were few, if any, police officers present to catch them. In contrast, students at poor, black, inner-city high schools are often highly policed and monitored.

Heavy police presence at inner-city schools is an important part of the current move to 'defund the police'. But consider simply how the supposedly neutral 'comparison' sets things up. The adjective 'inner-city' is code for 'predominantly black'.

Few white people would answer affirmatively a survey question that bold-facedly asked: "do you think that word 'black' implies 'criminal'?" But the connection in their mind is likely not that far from the connections between the words 'homosexual' and 'criminal' back in 1969.

 

 
Posted By Subaltern Queer

Remember my accusation that the University of St Andrews uses 'covert abuse' to silence its employees regarding the profound injustices that permeate the entire fabric of the university, particular in terms of BAME and LGBTQ+ employees?

 

The legal firm Clyde & Co (or should that be "Bonnie & Clyde"?) has sent me a letter by email designed to shut me up. This is exactly what I mean by 'covert abuse'--hostile action to suppress current employees and those former employees who have been 'oppressed' out.

 

 

Dear Sir

 

University of St Andrews ("the University")

 

We have been consulted by the University in connection with comments made by you on your blog

(http://apps.bruceellisbenson.com/Blog/) ("the blog").

 

Under the post headed "The St Andrews Delusion", you make untrue and potentially defamatory comments about the University and members of the University's staff. The comments contained in

that post have the potential to cause serious reputational damage to the University and various members of staff mentioned (whether mentioned by name or by reference to other details which makes those individuals identifiable).

 

The comments made by you, which are currently being considered by the University as the subject of a potential action, include the following:

 

• "St Andrews is one of the most abusive places for the LGBTQ+ community one could possibly imagine"

• "Anyone who works there knows that St Andrews thrives on covert abuse"

• "One is left wondering whether the views on same-sex partnerships of the two colleagues responsible for determining who was on the 'long list' were irrelevant"

 

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of the potentially defamatory comments which have been made by you.

 

The University is currently considering its legal rights in relation to this matter. However, in order to avoid the need for further legal recourse at this stage, we invite you to confirm, within 7 days, your

agreement to the following:

 

1. You will immediately remove the "The St Andrews Delusion" post from the blog;

2. You undertake not to repeat the comments made in that post to any other party, via your blog or via any other medium;

3. You will provide to the University, and the members of its staff mentioned in the "The St Andrews Delusion" post, a written apology and confirmation that the allegations made by you in that post are false and without foundation (the terms of such apology to be approved by the University).

 

If we do not hear from your within 7 days to confirm your agreement to the above points, we shall take the University's instructions on further action.

 

We emphasise that we act only for the University in this matter. We recommend that you obtain independent legal advice on the terms of this letter.

 

We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Yours faithfully

Clyde & Co (Scotland) LLP

 
Posted By Subaltern Queer

Christian Persecution Myth
 

There is much moaning among American Evangelicals about the supposed persecution they are enduring. As always, you can count on Pat Robertson to say something outrageous:

“Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians. It’s no different. It is the same thing. It is happening all over again. It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians. Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by an minority in history ."

You might think that such a quotation was invented me, but my imagination just couldn't dream up anything that crazy. Instead, the quotation comes from an interview with Molly Ivins in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (14 September 1993).

But isn't Robertson just a nutcase and an 'exception' to Evangelical rhetoric? Noooo. I can still remember one of my colleagues at Wheaton warning me that Obama's plan was to close down all of the churches. When she said that, I assumed I had misheard. So I asked her to repeat it. Yes, that was exactly what she said.

But do you see the troika that is persecuting Evangelicals? It's the Democrats, the liberal media, and homosexuals. Just to be clear, I don't have any meetings with Diane Feinstein and CNN. I remember the gay organist of one of the churches I've attended saying: "People talk about something called the 'Gay Lobby', but I've never been invited to one of their meetings." Because the gay lobby does not exist.

There is, though, an established anti-gay lobby: it's called Hobby Lobby (I'm not making that up), a chain of hobby stores owned by fundamentalists. The idea that homosexuals somehow have the power over much of anything is kind of quaint. The reality is quite different.

What's interesting about Robertson's quote is that he speaks first of 'evangelical Christians' but then moves simply to 'the Christians'. This is how Evangelicals see themselves: they are the Christians. How do we know this? Because they are persecuted. Alas, ingrained in the story that the Christian Church likes to tell about itself is that it has always been victimized. That story is largely untrue. All four Gospels depict Jesus as an innocent victim, but the reality is that Jesus said and did things that both the Jewish and the Roman hierarchies would have judged to be treasonous. You may remember that there was this Greek guy named Socrates who was put to death for asking too many questions. Governments and religious establishments don't like people like that--that is, people like me who ask too many questions.

The story of Christian persecution has been repeated--over and over. It has its basis in some true events, but it's largely like those movies that have a subtitle that says "based on a true story." Yes. Very loosely based. During Nero's reign, there were persecutions of Christians--and a whole lot of other people. Beginning in 250 CE, Decius began demanding that everyone sacrifice to the Roman gods, something that many Christians were unwilling to do. Some of those people really did get thrown to the lions.

But it is quite untrue that Christians were significantly targeted for persecution from beginning. The idea that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church (Tertullian) is true as mythology but not as fact. Christians has long sought confirmation of their rightness on the basis of being persecuted.

A huge part of the American mythology is that the founders came in search of religious freedom. While it is true that the Puritans came because they wanted to practice Christianity as they saw fit, they had no intention of allowing others to practice Christianity as they saw fit. In that respect, American Evangelicals are following the pattern of the Christians in the Roman Empire. Once Christianity became the official religion, then Christians were able to persecute those they didn't like. Which is exactly what happened.

Stan Jones, the provost at Wheaton, often spoke of the coming threat of homosexuals. According to him, they were going to insist on their rights and, eventually, Wheaton was going to be forced by the federal government to hire 'practicing' homosexuals (I guess they're still working on being gay) or else lose their tax-exempt status. From my perspective, all Evangelical institutions should lose their tax-exempt status.

The president of Wheaton started coming to faculty meetings and warning us that this was going to happen soon. But, he assured us, Wheaton had a big enough endowment to survive the loss of tax-exemption and it would be able to continue on. The board of trustees actually went on record as saying that they would sooner close the college down and sell off its assets than hire LGBTQ+ faculty and staff. By the way, I don't believe that they would actually do that, though the donor base of the college is certainly wealthy enough to keep them going, especially if it is done as an act against Christian 'persecution'. 

Frank Bruni has recently published an article in the NYT that predicts that many colleges will be forced to close because of the pandemic ("The End of College as We Know It?"). Lord knows that the loss of a bunch of Evangelical colleges would be no loss at all. I pity the students who attend some of these, for the quality of education they offer is poor and the tuition is expensive. But a Christian education is priceless.

What Evangelicals want is dominion. That's the term that people like Mike Pence use. American Evangelicals have a very peculiar reading of the separation of church and state. They see it as being for their protection, so that the government can't force them to do anything they don't want to do. For instance, Wheaton sued the federal government when 'Obama care' required that employers provide contraception. As it turns out, Wheaton was already providing its employees with exactly contraception that it objected to being forced to provide. Oops! But, as soon as the government mandated that they do what they were already doing, they protested. Their 'reasoning' was sanctity of life. 

But they don't give a damn about life. The real reason was that they didn't want the government telling them what to do. Because, well, if the government could tell them to provide contraception (even if they were already providing it), then the government just might try to make them hire practicing gays.

In short, Evangelicals do not want the government to have the right to tell them what to do. But they want the right to tell government what to do. They want dominion over every little part of your life. And they will do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal, including supporting a president who 'officially' supports them but whose life represents a complete contradiction to what Evangelicals say they represent. 

Which makes you wonder: perhaps Donald J. Trump isn't so far away from Evangelicals. Trump has always been ruthless in getting what he wanted. So have Evangelicals. All that moral stuff is really just about control.