Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Stonewall Uprising" gets theatrical run from FirstRun Features; due for showing on PBS American Experience

The PBS American Experience series has an 80 minute film “Stonewall Uprising” , about the “riot” at the Stonewall Bar in the wee morning hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, that led to the founding of the modern gay rights movement. The film has a brief theatrical release from Firstrun Features but will sppear on PBS (in April 2011). The film is produced and directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner. On Saturday afternoon in a Landmark Theater in downtown Washington DC, a small auditorium was about half full.

The first two thirds of the film traces the condition of the gay community in the US, particularly New York, in the 1960s, and it is fair to say that it lagged way behind in the Civil Rights movement. There is a lot of footage from the notorious 1967 CBS news special with Mike Wallace, “The Homosexuals”. In New York City, the World Fair in Flushing, Queens in 1964-1965 led to political attempts to “clean up New York” leading to the closing of many gay bars. I remember a weekend trip to New York from Washington by train on a weekend in early August, 1964 (I stayed at the New Yorker for then at $9 a night), meeting friends, and going to the “Circle on the Square” in the Village to see Euripides, and hearing offhand comments about “too many homosexuals” in the area.

Police in many cities would raid bars, arrest everyone therein, and publish the names in newspapers. In New York, particularly after the World’s Fair, the Mafia provided “protection” for the seedier places from the police, including the “Trucks”, setting up the gay world as it quickly liberated in the early 1970s after Stonewall. (The New York GAA used the Firehouse on Wooster street for some number of years.)

Around the country, government agencies ran anti-gay propaganda films, and in Florida, vice squads addressed school assemblies about the “dangers” of homosexuality (“If we catch you…”). Mental institutions performed lobotomies and aversion therapy, one of the worst being in California. By the 1980s (even as the AIDS epidemic erupted), these viewpoints would tend to be limited to those of anti-gay extremists like Paul Cameron, or “pastor” Fred Phelps today.

I’ve detailed my own experience on these pages, the 1961 William and Mary Expulsion and succeeding psychiatric “treatment” at NIH in 1962. During all of this, one needs to “ask why”. Indeed, why was homosexuality criminalized? You ask an average gay man born since the mid 1980s and living in a major city today in the US and he would probably not be able to give a good answer, other than “religious morality”, including the influence of the Vatican and of “evangelical” Christianity. Well, look at Islam and ask the same question.

I think a lot of it has to do with social cohesion and nebulous ideas about the family, and a fear that if “non-competitive” men (like I was) are allowed to kibitz from a critical pedestal in the gay world, men in the straight world will no longer have enough incentive to make and particularly keep their families. But it is even deeper than that, having a lot to do need parents perceive to guarantee themselves a lineage, and to compel their children to be able to take over parenting as older siblings or for deceased or disabled family members. I’ve covered this on other blog postings.

The world of the 60s for homosexuals was a far cry from today; all people wanted was “privacy”; nobody even could conceive of “equality” or gay marriage. In fact, the conventional wisdom then was that gay people didn’t want to mimic straight institutions.

The PBS link for the film is here.

In 1970, one year after the Uprising, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day parade was held in New York City. People were petrified at appearing in a public gathering as homosexual, but the affair grew and became a joyous celebration .

That weekend in 1969, I was on a Church retreat, on pass while in the Army. (In those days, the Army fought off the use of homosexuality to avoid the draft.) In a softball game, I swung at a first pitch and hit the longest home run in my life.

The film should be compared to the PBS films "Before Stonewall" and "After Stonewall" in the 1990s, as well as Strand Releasing's "Stonewall" (1996). directed by Nigel French, with a virile Frederick Weller.

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