Stonewall Minus Nine Years
To the Editor:
One of the underlying issues arising from your March-April issue is the lack of any readily identifiable leader of the gay liberation movement over the past half century. It is not, however, a particularly surprising lack, because the identifiable leader is: us. Historians like hooks on which to hang their theories; hence the supposedly crucial historical date of the Stonewall riot.
The real start of gay liberation, however, dates back to the winter of 1959–60. Before then, the gay community in New York had been accustomed to hiding in the Mafia-run gay bars, then collectively known as the “bird circuit” after the names of the several bars. The vicious official homophobia of the McCarthy years in the 1950’s had eventually resulted in the police closure of all those bars, leaving New York without a single gay establishment.
The upshot of this oppression was not what the police and government of the city expected. Instead of disappearing underground, the gay men of New York burst out onto the streets. The east side of Third Avenue in Midtown between 51st Street and the low 60’s, and the West side of Greenwich Avenue in the Village between Christopher Street and 7th Avenue, became the gay cruising areas of the city, flagrantly obvious to everyone and far too popular and populated for the police to try to stop. Thousands of gay men cruised one another in these locations, stopping their strolling at any convenient shop window to give an opportunity for the object of their interest to share the window and strike up a conversation. I met my first lover in just that way in the spring of 1960 on Third Avenue. This was an in-your-face revolution by the gay men of New York, anticipating Stonewall by nine years, and was the foundation of a popular movement that surged onwards until the onset of AIDS in the early 1980’s, a tragedy that changed the gay liberation movement permanently.
The Stonewall was merely a seedy bar (now completely changed for the better), the hangout of transvestites and rent boys. When they decided to retaliate against the police who were trying to close down the bar, they were soon joined by a substantial crowd of “us” who had been cruising the neighborhood as usual.
What gave the gay movement its power and momentum in the early years was not any one leader or group of leaders; it was the ever-growing number of us who were willing to be visibly out of the closet when social opprobrium was still widely the result. For some of us, it was easier because we worked in gay-tolerant or even gay-friendly professions such as the theatre, advertising or academe, but for many more of us it took real courage. It is the almost always anonymous “us” who have led the way to gay liberation, just by being who we are and being open about it.
Andrew Trimingham, Devon, England
‘Pederasty’ Needs Clarification
To the Editor:
I have been reading the letters since the Jan.-Feb. 2012 issue on the subject of pederasty, in particular responses to the initial letter written by Trevor Duncan. It’s not clear if Mr. Duncan addressed pederasty as the attraction to youths, as distinguished from pedophilia [an attraction to pre-adolescent children], and the confusion and conflation are reflected in the responses.
I concur with the editorial decision of the GLR to print Duncan’s letter. The responses to the letter and to the decision by the GLR to publish it have been self-righteous and harsh in tone. You are not justifying pederasty, and if the subject can’t even be discussed, then we are in fact air-brushing it from the record and from legitimate questions of morality and public law.
Robert Stuart, Amagansett, New York
St. Sebastian in the 70’s
To the Editor:
Kudos to Columbia, South Carolina, for its brave Sebastian extravaganza [an art exhibit explored by Ed Madden in the Jan.-Feb. 2012 issue]. Their feat has personal resonance for me—and gay San Francisco.
On the day George Moscone and Harvey Milk were assassinated [Nov. 27, 1978], Theater Rhinoceros was doing its first turn, and I was staging my neoclassical tragedy, Diocletian and Sebastian, at 330 Grove Street in the Top Floor Gallery of the Gay Community Center. I held my first rehearsal that night despite the grief and the uproar. Classical sang-froid, you know. In the downstairs meeting room at the front of the center, Harvey’s bitterest rivals and enemies—their faces masks of formal grief—held a memorial. The garish floral display resembled that of a gangster’s funeral.
After rehearsal, the cast and I walked in the famous candlelight and flower parade from the Castro to City Hall with all of San Francisco. It was a sublime moment. The course of the march carried us past Harvey’s little shop, Castro Camera. Atop that spot there was a billboard for Foster and Kleiser. In December, that company fronted me the space to advertise my play.
For the month of January, Diocletian and Sebastian dominated the space over Castro Camera. A black-and-white CinemaScope-scaled image of two men in a torturous embrace—“their love changed the world,” blared the grainy black and white billboard—reminded the Castro and the city of what was at stake at that moment.
Saint Sebastian is an important figure in gay legend. Diocletian and Sebastian earned a good notice in The Advocate. But I still owe Foster and Kleiser a thousand bucks, adjusted for inflation and interest.
Dennis Paddie, Austin, Texas
Pat Bond Before Word Is Out
To the Editor:
I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see the photograph of a smiling Pat Bond in your March-April 2012 issue. It brought back a time much before the Word Is Out period : a post-beatnik, pre-hippie, mini-renaissance that occurred in Sausalito from 1959 to 1961.
A thriving artistic and gay scene was happening then. Cheap rents and plentiful tourist-related jobs kept the pot boiling. The Bridgeway was the local gay bar where everyone hung out and, as in all distant memories, the sun there was always shining.
Many of us, including Pat Bond, Rick Sarton, Gerry Berryhill, and Sue Sellars, lived in the Del Monte Hotel where, for one dollar per night, Don and Betty oversaw our comings and goings. Pat had a room overlooking the street and would hold shouting conversations with anyone below.
It was the time of Contact magazine, the Tides Bookstore, Juanita’s Galley, the Kettle, and the Gate Theater, among other landmarks. Alan Watts had a houseboat at Gate 5, and Sally Stanford held court with her parrot at the Valhalla. I was a skinny 21-year-old finding my way into the world. Pat was always big and friendly, and her room was always filled with interesting stuff. Everyone smoked a lot.
Richard Knablin, North Bend, Oregon
An Early AIDS Memorial in New York
To the Editor:
In the article, “AIDS Memorials in the U.S.A. (May-June 2012), it is stated that “New York City … had no memorial in place prior to Hudson River Park, which was dedicated in 2008.”
In fact, the “AIDS Memorial in the Village,” with at least a thousand names on it, has existed since June of 1993. It is located in the first balcony of St. Veronica’s Church on Christopher Street. Every June during Gay Pride week, an interfaith service is held there to remember those lost to AIDS. The memorial may be visited whenever the church is open.
Breck Ardery, Royal Oak, Michigan
In an article in the May-June 2012 issue, “The Love of Pierre du Pont’s Life,” the caption for a photo of Lewes Mason (page 20, photo on right) gave the date as 1920. The correct date is 1918. Mason died in October of that year.
An observant reader noticed a discrepancy between the photograph and the caption for one of the AIDS memorials discussed in the May-June 2012 issue (page 28). The memorial at Hudson River Park is a stone slab that reads, in the photograph, “I can sail without wind, I can sail without oars, but I cannot part from my friend without tears.” The photo shows an earlier version of the monument, which was later corrected to read: “I can sail without wind, I can row without oars…” (italics added). The caption provided the quotation as it now reads.
Due to an editorial mix-up, an error crept into Roz Warren’s review of Jane Rule’s Taking My Life in the May-June issue. While the article states that Jane rule moved to Canada with her family in 1956. In fact, she moved to Canada on her own in that year.