By Mark Segal, PGN
This week, I’m writing about an issue that sheds new light on a subject we all think we know: Stonewall. Earlier this week, my husband Jason, who teaches creative writing at Boston University, handed me an anthology of the best science-fiction stories of 2016. The book, edited by John Joseph Adams, has a story by Sam J. Miller titled “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History.” It’s literally a science-fiction account of Stonewall.
For any of us who were there, especially those of us who were members of Gay Liberation Front, which was built from the ashes of Stonewall, it’s a personal story. After reading it, I sent the info of the story to our GLF email chain to get the reaction of my brothers and sisters who went through that time period.
The story takes a look at Stonewall from the eyes of fictitious people involved: police, eyewitnesses, participants, etc. However, the characters in the story perpetuate two of the myths about Stonewall that are dead wrong. Even though this is fiction, since this is a personal story for me, those myths are hard to overlook.
It starts with the idea that the riot happened due to Judy Garland’s death. That is an insult to each and every LGBT person, then and now. It trivializes the riot and our actions, especially those of the street kids and trans people. Those in the club that night were mostly young, and Garland wasn’t a part of our generation. We danced to Diana Ross, The Fifth Dimension, Barbra Streisand, and even The Beatles. I can’t recall “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” ever being played at any time.
It was 1969, the height of the counter-cultural ‘60s. People our age were, as they say today, disruptive. What actually set off Stonewall was the police and the way they treated us. Very simply, that act forced out our anger and oppression of 200 years. Or, to put it personally, those police represented the hate we had endured, the rejection, the bullying, the beatings and the isolation each of us felt. It is an insult to that pain to even utter that a diva set us off. It belittles those involved.
I guess you see how strongly I feel about this issue.
There is one minor character in the story who does say that the riot had nothing to do with Judy Garland, but that perspective is only a few lines long.
In the story, the riot is the scene of science-fiction phenomena like collective pyrokinesis and multipsonics. My favorite line was when a character talks about all the people who got vaporized, and the smell of charred bodies as you entered the remains of the bar. The writer embellishes the scope of the riot and the damage. At this point, it amused me, and I wrote our GLF email chain.
Most of them have come to terms with Stonewall. It’s personal for us, but that exchange helped me finally write, “OK, I’m literally sorry I brought up the vaporizing of Stonewall.” Hey, I thought it would amuse everyone.
There’s one point I’ve used over and over the last couple of years and for me it’s a major one. I wrote it in my email and always say it in my recollections: “From the ashes of Stonewall came GLF, the most important LGBT organization that has EVER existed.”
“First, as a group, we decided to define ourselves rather than allowing society to do so, and second, we created community where there was none before,” I continued. “We did it all in the open, we blew the closet door wide open and embraced all in our community.
“So take great pride and know that you were in a very special organization with some incredible people. Stonewall is bigger than all of us, and our views are all different due to age and other factors. Whether you were in Stonewall before, during or after, it was GLF that took that spark and ran with it. And no matter how the story changes, no matter what is written to explain what happened or to explore the issues we were facing, the fact remains that we changed the world, and we changed it as a community.”
Mark Segal is the nation’s most award-winning commentator in LGBT media. His recently published memoir, And Then I Danced, is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or at your favorite bookseller.