Some people might think that the LGBTQIA+ rights movement began with the Stonewall Riots. To be sure, it was a major event – but the movement began long before that. Eric Marcus, host of Making Gay History, joins Alex and Phil as we listen to the stories of longtime actvists Leona and Richard, and do a deeper dive into the origins of the gay rights movement and the seminal events that defined it. We also learn more about the background behind Making Gay History and how sharing our community’s stories can enrich future generations and even help combat bullying.
Transcript provided by YouTube:
Phil: Hey, this is Phil aka Corinne.
Alex: And I’m Alex Berg and you are listening to the I’m From Driftwood podcast.
If you just can’t get enough of I’m From Driftwood, go check out its YouTube channel.
The stories have tens of millions of views and over 100,000 subscribers
and a new story is uploaded every week. You can also browse every story its ever published
since it launched in 2009. Speaking of stories, let’s get to today’s episode.
Phil: So on today’s show, we’re talking at about LGBTQIA+ history. The first
storyteller we hear from is Leona, a longtime activist in Philadelphia.
Leona: When I first came out in ’85,
I came out into a fairly supportive area, community. Looking back I now
know how many of these things were the first of type of things. Like my first gay pride
was in ’86. I was at New York gays Pride. And then something that year you could start
hearing bubbling up shortly after Pride, a lot of people talking about what was going to be a
March on Washington that it was time to stand up and speak out for rights and to really demand.
It very much like the civil rights March had happened years prior in the ’60s that we were
going to do a similar type of things. And it was initially, almost like this slow, you could
hear scurrying and people talking about it. And then all of a sudden you just fell out this huge
wave of people saying, yeah, we’re going. Yeah, we’re going to go, let’s do this.
A few of us originally said, well, we have a bunch of us who want to go,
why would we not get a bus? Let’s see if we can’t get a bus and fill it. And we were
thinking one bus and so did some research, we found one of the bus companies, we hired a bus,
started selling tickets. This was before the internet. So there was no way to broadcast and
advertise it to the general population. Within 24 hours that first bus was full.
So we called and got a second bus and that bus filled almost immediately. And we called
and got a third bus and we got a fourth bus. And every time we called another bus
and people would buy the ticket for it, we’d call and get another bus.
And eventually, before it was all said and done, we had over 20 buses coming out of Philadelphia.
When we got there and they were lining up the buses in RFK old stadium to be able to get over
and get people over to where the marchers going to start. And everywhere you looked around,
there was nothing but buses. And it is a feeling of one of the first times I think that that many
of us ever got together. I know it ended up being one of the largest marches on Washington anywhere
but just that feeling, first of getting there and seeing that many buses coming in and the
logistics challenges we were having about getting everybody to where they needed to be.
It’s one thing to, to try and get many people there. But then we had to get
everybody from the buses through all the Metro systems and to the start of the March. And
one is, it was just a matter of cooperation and everybody helping each other get where
they needed to be. But just everywhere you looked around, there was this sea
of LGBT folks and at that time we didn’t use LGBTQ+, it was gay and lesbian. But there was just
everywhere you could see. There was every walk of life you can imagine was coming over those hills.
Every walk of life was showing up and lining up at the beginning of the
March to get everything together. As we stepped off and Philadelphia marched off as a collective
group, somebody had brought down a banner that said Philadelphia Marches on Washington.
And a large part of our group grabbed that banner and took off down the roads together.
Not only were we taking over the streets, there were so many of us trying to walk
together. There was so much going on. We were spilling over into the sidewalks. We
were literally just coming down and it was just this huge force of people that
just kept moving. We were starting to push into crowds. We had people
starting to show up who weren’t expecting to have an LGBTQ March happening that day.
And instinctively those of us who were a little larger, particularly those of us on the rugby team
started to step out towards the edge of the sides and really to form that barrier to make
sure that if somebody tried to come make a run or try to cut through the March, that they were
directed in another direction and help keep people’s space. But really, just that whole
feeling of just getting everybody to the March, getting everybody down there, it was a long day
of activities, but it was just really one of cohesive support as a community of showing up.
We got out to the end of the March and we’re able to get to the capital and to the areas at the end,
out on the constitutional out the mall. And seeing that mall just filled with that many people
was one of those amazing sites and the speakers and things that… The day was so intense,
I honestly don’t remember necessarily what anyone speaker said or when we were done. It was the
feeling of the eclectic group, the energy that was there of one that you knew it was making a change,
making a difference that this was somehow different than anything that had happened before.
This was one of those things aren’t going to go back. They’re not going to go…
It’s a step forward and it’s a permanent step forward. There were too many of us
who are willing to basically show up and stand up and say, this is who we are.
This is what we’re doing. We don’t care who’s around. We don’t care who sees us.
We are going to say that you really need to treat us like human beings.
One of the really great things that came out of it is, a year later, they decided to create
National Coming Out Day in October. And it is absolutely one of my favorite holidays. Basically,
as that first celebration of National Coming Out Day was coming together with the different cities.
Philadelphia, we put together a small gathering in front of Giovanni’s Room,
which was about three quarters of the block in front of a Giovanni’s room, which is the LGBTQ
bookstore that was there and was able to have our organization from the student organizations
come together, many other organizations were there and people started to show out.
That was the first of the out the National Coming Out Day celebrations
and in Philadelphia, that’s now to become Outfest, which is the largest celebration in October
of National Coming Out Day anywhere in the world. One of the things that was really cool is
much later, there was an exhibit in the national archives, which was the first
ever LGBTQ exhibit ever in the national archives called speaking out for equality.
And the very first thing you saw when you walked into that national archives at the constitution
center, and [inaudible] was a picture of the group in Philadelphia with a big sign that
said Philadelphia Marches on Washington. And at the very edge, there’s a woman who’s there
with a maroon and keel blue rugby shirt on who isn’t me, but it’s one of my teammates who was
there. And that was the start of our group, where we had formed up to put all that set there.
I know I was within five feet of that picture. It was one of those things that you just will
never forget the site of seeing that many people show up after being told for so many years that
we didn’t exist. We were the outcasts, we were the ones that were
going to be scorned on, never be able, accepted anywhere. And to see
hundreds of thousands, I believe they ended up with almost a million. I don’t remember
the exact count of people but it was one of the largest marches in Washington ever.
And to see that there, it didn’t surprise me be because what I saw was,
just this huge wave of energy of people saying, it is time for us to
stand up and come together and make this a part of, we are part of this country, we are part of
this community. We are part of who’s here. And that it is definitely time for a change.
Phil: I mean, Alex, this story building you with pride. I was welling up with a pride
as I listened to this story, because you can feel it coming off of Leona as she was talking and
you could just see her being like, I was there while this happened. This is a part
of history. This has been documented. And I was literally five feet from this amazing exhibit.
Alex: Well, I think the thing that really crystallized it all was when she said she
doesn’t even remember, it’s such an extraordinary breathtaking moment that she couldn’t even absorb
all the speakers. To me, I understood that kind of visceral reaction to something that it’s all
just happening around you. And it was also just a reminder that we’re at a stage where
I think to a certain extent, we almost take something like Outfest for granted.
Even she was, the turnout for the March was unexpected to her and that these things
aren’t institutionalized and that they’re carried on because there is the momentum
and investment from the people who are part of them. So it was just really cool to hear
it come together. And then also, a reminder that as she was describing the different buses,
when you’re in the midst of something, you don’t know how big it’s going to be,
or how much of an action it’s going to be, or you don’t wake up in the morning and you say,
I’m going to be part of this huge historical event when you’re participating in these
marches and such. And so it was really cool to get to go to the front lines through her perspective.
Phil: Yeah. I think the other thing that was amazing was,
she talks about how there was so much of a cohesiveness amongst the group because they
were all there with this common cause in their hearts. So they just found a way to make it work
and to make sure that everyone got from the buses to where they wanted to go and where they were
marching. The amount of cohesiveness amongst the collective was, I just think it’s fascinating.
Up next, we have Richard, a New York City based activist who participated
in a number of public demonstrations in the ’70s on behalf of queer and trans rights.
Richard: It must have been about 19, probably 71, maybe ’70 I’m bad at dates but in that time
period. And I was a part of the Gay Activists Alliance in New York and the mayor of New York at
that time, John Lindsay was very much a liberal but liberals even at that time were people who
would quietly try to help but would never be public. And we knew that it was important for
gay rights, that it’d be public, that, that little quiet sh on the side wasn’t sufficient.
So the Gay Activists Alliance had a many month campaign to do that
to John Lindsay. And on one of these occasions, it was gay pride week of
that year. And we decided to harass him, I think is probably the right word
for that entire week. John Lindsay at that time was, it was early primary season. John Lindsay
was going to run for president. And so, he had this big fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall.
We were going to do two things. We were going to certainly have tickets outside loud, pickets,
shouting, screaming, but we also had managed to get a half dozen or five or six tickets
to the event itself. We were going to do a disruption inside Radio City Music Hall
as well as this demonstration outside. The way this was going to work. It was the world
premier of the film Hot Rock. So it was in conjunction at that at Radio City Music Hall.
So of course, before the film though, they were going to do speeches. So first, out on the stage
was a very popular liberal comic, comedian at the time by the name of Alan King. So he came up to
the mic, did a few jokes and then introduced mayor John Lindsay. He steps to the side, John Lindsay
comes out, steps up to the microphone. And as he begins to speak, not all of us inside but
one person, the first one being, I believe Cora [inaudible 00:12:10], stands up and starts yelling
“John Lindsay, what are you going to do about the oppression of gays in New York City?”
Of course, there are cops and security people who are going for her immediately to get her out of
there. We all had very popular at the time for some really ridiculous reason was these handheld
sirens, which somehow were supposed to protect you from a mugging or something.
You could pull pin on the siren and it would go off. Each of us had one of those. So as they’re
almost about ready to grab Cora, she pulls the pin, throws the pin in one direction
and the siren in another, and of course gets led out of Radio City Music Hall.
John Lindsay comes back and starts again. The second person,
stood up and did the same routine. And there were four or five of us who were able to do that.
It forced John Lindsay off the stage to replace by actually a cartoon, which was preceding
the film that they were showing. So a bunch of our people also wound up being in the balcony.
And as we were doing this down below giving John Lindsay a hard time, they just took a bunch of
flyers and went over the seats and that raining down from the balcony.
I think I remember Radio City Music Hall in particular, among a host of other actions
that we did because it just had everything in there. It certainly had a just cause. It had
a sense of power in it. It had theatrics in it. It had a certain cleverness in how we did it.
When I tell stories about that as we call them various actions, I think what I’m trying to say
is, aside from the fact that it’s a lovely memory that I like to remember,
what I’m trying to say is that we had a great deal.
There’s a great deal of fun in standing up for yourself
for any of the issues today, whether it’s LGBT rights or others,
do it, it sets up your life in a way that you will enjoy and be proud of. So get out there and do it.
Phil: What struck me about this story was this,
talking about John Lindsay and some of the allies or the LGBTQ community at that time
and how they were quietly, they were stealthy being allies. They weren’t
outright in their actions, in their words, with standing with the community. His thought was,
that just won’t work. In order for us to really have change, we need outright displays. We need
you to actually publicly support the community and come out and say that you’re with us.
It’s not okay for you… it’s like being with somebody on the down low. I don’t know how else
to put it. It’s like, I’m going to love you off to the side. I am not going to love you
publicly. And it’s the same thing it’s like, love me publicly, love me so that everyone knows that
you’re with me. And because that’s where change is going to come. We know how important it is
to have allyship. And that allyship it needs to be public and it’s support. It’s just…
Alex: It just too all reminds me so many of the issues that we
have fought through for throughout history, it’s sort of they keep on iterating. We’re still
people who are to the left, who purport to be allies. We’re still trying to push them
further. And so it reminded me of that. And obviously,
today we have the most perfect guest to continue talking about the amazing moments in history.
Phil: And here to help us with that is a host and the founder of the wildly popular
podcast, Making Gay History. Please welcome Eric Marcus.
Eric: Hi Phil. Hi, Alex. Delighted to be with you. Alex: Well, the delight is ours because
we’re so excited to talk to you.
Phil: I totally agree, you cannot take the delight, Eric [inaudible 00:15:50].
Alex: Okay. There’s none left for me.
Phil: It’s none. So first things first,
Eric, how are you doing right now in these crazy times we’re living in?
Eric: That’s such a good question. I would say pretty discombobulated. We just wrapped
up a season of the podcast and it really helped to be totally focused on my work
because there was just no chance to think about how discombobulating things were and
how frustrated and angry I was feeling about people who’ve not gotten vaccinated and about the
politicians who are encouraging people to not get vaccinated, even though they’ve been vaccinated.
It just feels like we live in very crazy and depressing times in this country. And even
as positive as I feel about our current president and many of the progressives elected to Congress,
there are such strong forces working against the greater good. And I don’t feel very hopeful.
I think I would feel differently if I were at the beginning of my life in my ’20s or
’30s. But at this stage of life, it feels like I have seen some these cycles before.
This is worse than a lot of what I’ve seen in the past. And it’s hard to feel hopeful.
Alex: Yeah. I like the word discombobulated because I feel
like that just speaks to everything. Sometimes I say, I feel very scrambled
because that’s the feeling. Well, for our listeners who may be new to you,
can you tell us a little bit about yourself and exactly what you do on Making Gay History?
Eric: What we do on Making Gay History is we bring LGBTQ history to life through the voices
of the people who lived it, drawing mostly from an archive of more than 100 interviews that I did
over 30 years ago for a book of the same name. That was an oral history book.
I used broadcast quality equipment of the time, assuming that someday someone might
want to mine my archive. And in 2008, I had an opportunity to turn my collection over to the
New York Public Library with an agreement that they digitized the entire collection.
And in 2015 when I was trying to figure out what to do next as a 55-year old journalist
who needed a job and nobody wants to hire a 55-year old journalist, I read a wonderful
book called Life Reimagined by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, who was one of my favorite
NPR correspondence since Left. And it was a li a book about
how to reimagine your life when you’re having to make a change. And it was really helpful.
And one of the things she recommended was look at your assets, whatever they’re.
And I had this huge asset of a large collection of audio tape, 300 hours worth with
amazing people. Many of whom were at the very start of our movement in 1950 and even earlier.
And so, what started out as a small education project, we were going to provide short clips
of my audio recordings to anchor lesson plans and resources for K through 12
educators turned into a podcast. We launched in October 2016. So it’s nearly five years.
We have produced more than 90 episodes, over the course of nine seasons, we’ve had 4.5
million episode downloads in 200 countries and territories around the world. Now, compared to
big podcasts where a little podcast but compared to what we anticipated, we thought by the end of
our first season, we had 25,000 downloads. We were so excited. So to be at 4.5 million downloads its
pretty exciting. Also, the feedback we get from all over the world is really something.
So I’m a journalist principally, I’ve written a dozen books. Most of my career was in print
until I switched over to audio but what I do is tell stories, mostly other people’s stories.
Phil: And you do so very well, I have to say.
Eric: Thank you.
Phil: 4.5 million downloads, okay, that is fantastic. I mean, Making Gay History,
this podcast is a huge success, I mean, we here at I’m From Driftwood are massive fans of it.
It’s an incredible podcast. And I know it’s based off of the book you originally
wrote. How did the idea for turning your book research into a podcast really come about it?
Eric: It wasn’t my idea. A lot of my career, wasn’t my idea. I was commissioned to write the
original making history book, we didn’t use the word gay in the first edition. I was commissioned
by an editor at Harper and Rowe who asked me to write an oral history about the gay lesbian,
civil rights movement about which I knew almost nothing. I thought our movement began in 1969.
Having no idea that the first gay rights organization was founded in Germany in Berlin in
1897. And that our US history dates back to 1924 when there was an organization founded in Chicago.
But I really dated to 1950 when the Mattachine Society was founded and the movement slowly took
off in the US. So the book wasn’t my idea, so the podcast began as this small education project.
I met with Deb Fowler at History UnErased, which is a nonprofit organization that develops
K through 12 LGBTQ inclusive American history resources and does a lot of
trainings with educators. And they had asked if they could use short clips from my archive. So,
I hired my next door neighbor, who is a audio journalist, radio journalist Sarah Birmingham
because I knew saw, had done this work. She worked for the BBC and for NPR in Arkansas.
So I said, “Can you cut tape?” She said, “Sure.” She said, “What do you got?” So she started
working on a couple of pieces. My goal was to get down to about six minutes for each piece.
And when she got to 18 to 20 minutes, she said, “I think this is a podcast.” So
she said, but I don’t know enough about podcasts to do a podcast. So I’m going to go to
podcast school. So over Labor Day, 2016, Sarah went to podcast school five days
and at the end of the weekend of classes, there were a couple of experts who were
brought in to listen to the student’s work and to comment and give them advice.
And one of those people was Jenna Weiss-Berman,
who was a partner in one of the hottest podcast, production studios
anywhere, Pineapple Street Studios. She’s also a lesbian and she absolutely loved the two pieces
that Sarah shared. She shared a clip from Wendell Sayers and a clip from Dr. Evelyn Hooker two key
people in the early… Oh, well, Hooker is very key in the early days of the movement as an ally.
Eric: And Wendell Sayers just has an extraordinary story, an African American man
who was in his mid 80s when I interviewed him in the story that he told me, it was
about going to the Mayo clinic in 1919 to be diagnosed as a homosexual. That’s
how his story starts. But he also went to the Mattachine society convention in Denver in 1959.
And so, Jenna heard these pieces and she said, “What can I do?”
And she took us under her wings and because we had a deadline
tied to a grant, a Kevin Jennings from the Arcus Foundation, he’s now the executive director of
Lambda Legal, was the founder of GLSEN. We had to have something out by the end of October.
So these are the challenges of the grant. So we had been planning something else,
which were these short clips, which were going to also have on the website for our magazine.
But I asked Kevin if we could shift directions and do this as a podcast,
but we still had to have something about the end of October. So we launched the Making Gay
History podcast with a fully fledged website in five weeks, which is crazy. But I really wanted
this website, a fully fledged website where the episodes could reside besides being available,
whether podcasts are available so that we could provide additional information in archival photos.
So that students who wanted to learn more or educators who wanted to use it would have a place
to go. I don’t recommend starting a podcast in five weeks, I produce another podcast, it’s called
Those Who Were There: Voices from the Holocaust for Yale University, fortunate enough video
archive for Holocaust testimonies. And we took two years. I don’t recommend launching
a podcast in five weeks because then you have to keep doing it. Although we didn’t expect to
go beyond the first season, we had no plans. It may look like we did but we didn’t have plans.
Alex: It’s really something to hear that you had no plans and I am just so struck by
the foresight that you had also to record everything at broadcast
quality, just to be thinking so far in advance and also about preserving these
stories that otherwise we would not have these voices. I mean that to me, it blows me away.
Eric: It blows me away too. But I think back to my 30-year old self and what was I thinking?
But I remember vividly asking my former boss at CBS News, a guy named Jake Curtis, who was a
creator of weekend edition and morning edition for NPR. I asked him what his colleagues at NPR used
and he referred me to one of his colleagues and I bought what they used.
I must have thought that these stories and I’m not 100% sure but I must have thought
that these stories would have value one day. I didn’t realize how rare some of these interviews
would be because many of the people I’ve interviewed died soon after. Chuck Rowland,
for example, one of the co-founders of the Mattachine Society. I think there
are two extended interviews with Chuck Rowland, and mine is one of the two.
But there are some people who I didn’t get to interview and I just want to tell you about one
of the people I didn’t get to interview but we got to uncover a recording, the only recording of her
Ernestine Eckstein you may not know her name. But if you’ve seen any of the photographs of
the protests in front of the white house in 1965, there was an African American woman wearing white
cats eye framed sunglasses. Her hair is done up in a [inaudible 00:25:13] like Audrey Hepburn.
She’s wearing a white blouse, a dark skirt and pumps and she’s carrying a protest sign. It was in
March organized by Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen
and Kay Lahusen was taking photographs. So I tried to find Ernestine Eckstein and could not find her.
It turns out she was still alive but she had left the movement,
the homophile movement in the late 1960s, moved to California
and got involved with the black feminist movement. But Ernestine Stein, wasn’t her real name.
So I didn’t know that, most people in those days used pseudonyms for their
gay rights work or their homophile work. But my executive producer, Sarah Birmingham
found in the bowels of the New York Public Library, a 1965 interview with Ernestine
Eckstein. She was 25 years old, it was conducted by Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen and it is
extraordinary. So we did a podcast episode drawing on that interview with her Ernestine Eckstein.
And just a few weeks ago, Ernestine’s niece contacted me. She didn’t know anything about her
aunt until she started researching and she wanted to know why the family never spoke about her.
And she found the interview from the podcast and listened to her aunt’s story
and was so excited to learn that she had this aunt who had done this important work.
I called her the prophet of the movement but she talked about how she thought the movement needed
to unfold, how it was similar to and different from the black civil rights movement and what
our movement, the homophile movement, could learn from the black civil rights movement
and how it had to change before it could
take inspiration from the black civil rights movement, that we first needed to be visible.
So, as you talked about coming out and I had not heard anyone from that period,
talk about the importance of visibility in coming out until I heard that interview with Ernestine
that we thought might be out there. And one of the other things was an interview with Bayard Rustin.
So we knew that Bayard Rustin who was Dr. Martin Luther king Jr’s mentor,
and was the principal architect of the March on Washington for jobs and freedom in 1963,
we knew he was gay. We also knew that he gave a speech at the University
of Pennsylvania in 1987, where he talked about his sexuality. We couldn’t find it.
But through a series of coincidences, our executive producer, Sarah Birmingham knew a woman
who had kids the same age as Sarah did and they were at the same elementary
school down the block from where we live. And she had grown up in the same building
as Bayard Rustin and his partner Walter Naegle and was in and out of their apartment as a kid.
Well, Walter Naegle is still alive, Bayard surviving partner.
And it turns out that Walter Naegle had recorded all of Bayard’s interviews and speeches
during the 10 years they were together. So we did a whole episode of Bayard Rustin talking
about out his sexuality, its impact on his involvement to the black civil rights movement,
how he was thrown out twice, how he found his way back and planned the March on Washington, what the
FBI tried to do in blackmailing them, suggesting that he was having a relationship with Dr. King.
It’s so interesting. And it’s history that we’re not taught in no small part because he was gay.
He was kept in the background. But I think about what it would’ve been like when I was an eighth
grader or 11th grade, when American history is taught, if that had been included as part of the
civil rights story. Now that’s an interesting story and kids would love hearing that story.
So, as a short gay Jew from Queens that I’ve had the chance to bring
forward the story of one of the most important black civil rights leaders in history.
Feels me about such a sense of pride and I feel so privileged to have done it.
Phil: I’m blown away right now.
That’s just incredible. What you’re doing it’s just simply incredible.
Phil: Most of the world knows about Stonewall, there’s been a lot of focus put on that. And in
your opinion, what event in queer history should get as much coverage as Stonewall would you think?
Eric: Well, Stonewall is a seminal event. It is an important, it’s a key turning point
in the movement. No question about that. It didn’t spark a movement. What it did,
one could say it sparked a movement, what it did is it sparked the gay liberation phase of
the movement because the movement has had a number of phases. What it did most importantly it was, it
blew open what had been a small, mostly localized movement and made it a national movement.
So at the time of Stonewall there were between 40 and 60 homophile organizations across the US with
maybe 400 active members in those organizations, people who would call themselves activists.
But by the end of 1970, there was somewhere between 1200 and 1500
organizations with thousands of young people in particular, who had been drawn into the
movement from the women’s movement, from the black civil rights movement from the anti-war movement.
But if not, for all the organizing that had taken place before Stonewall, it couldn’t
have happened because the first two meetings that were held right after the Stonewall uprising were
organized by the president of the local chapter of the Mattachine Society, dates back to 1950 and
the local president of the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian organization that dates back to 1955.
So I always say that it’s the organizers who will inherit the earth,
is if not for the intensive organizing that took place in the months and years after Stonewall,
Stonewall wouldn’t be what its become. The other key turning points. So when we look at
starting points, turning points, it’s always more complex than a simple moment
in time because we can actually trace even the Mattachine Society’s founding in 1950
back to 1924 in Chicago, where there was a short lived gay rights organization.
And then all the way back act to Magnus Hirschfeld in Germany,
because the guy who started the organization in Chicago was a German immigrant who knew
about Magnus Hirschfelds sexuality Institute and his gay rights organization. And the guy
in Chicago inspired Harry Hay, who was one of the founders of the Mattachine Society in 1950.
So, it’s very hard always to identify singular events. But if we had to,
Stonewall is a key event, the founding of the movement to 1950 is a key event.
Another one on the order of Stonewall but very different is the AIDS crisis. We would not be
where we are without the experience of the AIDS crisis, because one of the most important aspects
of our movement has been visibility. And what the AIDS crisis did is that it made hundreds
of thousands of gay men in particular visible, and then also lesbians very visible since many
lesbians wound up running organizations and taking care of the men who were dying.
And it showed the world that we were human beings. We weren’t critters that lived under rocks.
And we organized in very important ways and learned all kinds of things about
raising funds, starting organizations, mobilizing the public, being out in the media. So the AIDS
crisis was as key and as pivotal in some ways as Stonewall. But each is very different.
Alex: As you were talking about Stonewall, I was thinking, I’m also a journalist and
we love to find a neat package for stuff, we love to treat things like they are so
perfect and linear. And I always think about how a lot of times when I’m talking to editors or
especially pitching straight editors stories about LGBTQ topics,
they always want to talk about who’s the one person who set off the entire movement.
There’s something, so I guess, seductive about the idea of there being one person.
Eric: Yeah. It’s seductive and reductive.
Eric: Black civil rights, mark Luther king and Rosa Parks.
And those stories are reduced to shorthand sentences like Stonewall where pride began.
Well, there was an organization called Pride founded in LA in 1966.
So Pride didn’t begin at Stonewall, I’m sorry, Stonewall. Stonewall. Wasn’t the first time there
were conflicts between the police and gay people, there was competence, cafeteria, and any number
of other things that were never documented. It was Barney’s Beanery in LA, it’s just…
You’re right, we do want to simplify things. And if we were to explain the history of the
movement in all its complexity, you wind up with a book like mine, making history was
550 pages and that was already reductive, it’s just a sampling the stories. But I do think that
it’s important to emphasize how messy history is, how complex it is and that no one person started.
They may have had the idea to start something but it wasn’t one person who
through the first brick at Stonewall or Harry Hay, was somebody who came up with
the idea for the Mattachine Society. But there were other people who inspired him.
Alex: Well, on that note, what is the biggest myth or misconception about LGBTQ+ history that
you hear? I mean, it could be a platitude like how we reduce stories and people
into these linear tellings, or it could even be a misperception of an event that happened.
Eric: I think we have to talk about Stonewall. That is the one event that is often
misinterpreted, misunderstood. I’m involved with another organization that I founded and chair it,
it’s called the Stonewall 50 Consortium. It’s an organization of organizations that
develop programming, exhibitions and education materials related to LGBTQ history and culture.
We started it for Stonewall to organize all of the cultural and educational institutions here
in New York who are planning program. There were hundreds of events and we helped organize that
or at least inform everybody of everything, we weren’t actually organizing the events. And one
of the things we did was produce a Stonewall fact sheet, just a several pages, it can be
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