The Stonewall Riots, 43 Years Later: Reflections of One of the Oldest Surviving Veterans of the Seminal Uprising

At 71 I am one of the oldest surviving veterans of the Stonewall Inn raid that occurred on June 28, 1969 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. I believe Ellen Shumsky may be a few months older or younger than I am. Kay Lahusen, another veteran, is at least a year younger than both of us. The fact that I am African-American makes it even more intriguing, given that the Kinsey Reports of 1948 omitted black males from their famous survey of American homosexuals, probably because at that time, there was not enough data on gay African-American men to include them as a group. Kinsey estimated that 10 percent of the white male population was homosexual, with no mention of black men.

I was at the Stonewall Inn with my white lover on the dreadful morning of the raid and the arrests. We had gone to the Stonewall around 11:00 p.m. on Friday, June 27, 1969. The Stonewall Inn was one of my favorite gay dancing bars, because of its proximity to where I lived in Greenwich Village. I frequented another gay dancing bar in Midtown Manhattan on the east side, the Old Vic, which was located on Second Avenue and 59th Street, at the foot of the Queensborough Bridge.

There were several others who, like me, wrote about the Stonewall Inn in their memoirs. Edmund White's book City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and 1970s gives an honest and refreshing account of what life was like for gays in New York during this period. Many of the places and scenes in his book are places that I frequented during my 30 years in New York. He gives a brilliant and truthful account of the Stonewall Inn raid and riots of 1969. He admits that it was just by chance that he was there at all. We must have bumped shoulders somewhere that night, even though I was inside the bar. In his other book, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, he gives a lengthy description of the Stonewall event, as I did in my book, The Confessions and Diaries of a New York Veteran of the Greenwich Village Stonewall Inn Raid of June 28, 1969: Souvenirs." I feel that it is the duty of Stonewall survivors to pass the torch to younger generations, who may not know how the gay-rights revolution began.

Mr. White writes, "And it wasn't all those crew-neck white boys in The Hamptons and The Pines who changed things, but rather the black kids and Puerto Rican transvestites who came down to the Village on the Subway, the 'A-Trainers,' who made the difference!"

Having moved out of New York in 1991, I missed the release of Stonewall, the 1995 movie. When I did see it, I thought it was sensational, because it was much more provocative and proactive than the raid -- but not the riots! The riots were a reflection of the innermost feelings and sentiments of the crowd, who were fed up with the harassment and assaults at the hands of the police. They fought back that night, probably because the police targeted the drag queens and transvestites when making the arrests. They were all pretty, prissy, and made up, with their tight dresses and high heels. As the policemen pushed and hurried them to the waiting paddy wagons, one of the drag queens' heels broke off, so she removed both her shoes as the nudging and poking with billy clubs continued. One of the drag queens nudged a policeman in the groin with an elbow while another threw a shoe that struck another officer. Then all hell broke loose! Bottles, rocks, and garbage-can Lids went flying through the air as the cops called for backup!

Oh, what a night!