STONEWALL REMEMBERED

by Larry Boxx

Owner of The Stonewall Inn, June, 1969

 


I

 remember the first time I entered Stonewall’s premises. I was escorting Janet Weisbert, the student council president, to New York’s City College Soph Dinner Dance for the class of ’59. It was held in the, then, classy, straight restaurant on the evening of November 16, 1956. Shortly after that it became a fancy straight nightclub. When the club began to lose business, they did the next standard maneuver and turned it into a Gay bar, using the license that they already held. The next usual step also occurred when they lost their license. This prehistoric Stonewall.

 

At that time there was no such thing as a Gay bar. There were some straight bars with a Gay bar in the back room where dancing with the same sex was allowed, until the large white light on the ceiling went on. When that occurred, you dropped your partner and reached for the nearest fag hag, hoping to look heterosexual when the police broke in.

 

When the Stonewall lost its license because people of the same sex were dancing in the front room, it became an after-hours bar, a Gay disco. Nobody bothered to get a license because they were going to be raided for selling liquor after hours anyway.

 

About two weeks before the Stonewall Declaration of Independence, a Gay bar called the Snake Pit was raided; just another “normal” situation to the police but there was the beginning of a catalyst involved. An exchange student from Columbia University was among the “faggots” arrested and taken to the police station.  He was afraid of being deported and jumped from a third story window. Unfortunately he became impaled upon an iron picket fence. It took the fire rescue department many hours to remove both him and the iron bar to the hospital. The entire episode was captured in a full front page picture in the Daily News. The poor guy lived, but he was maimed for life.

 

Two weeks later, it was Stonewall’s turn. The police actually had a reason to raid the bar...the Stonewall did not have a liquor license. After the recent incidents, however, the patrons decided to strike back. Gay Liberation started on Christopher Street, the evening of June 28, 1969.

 

You may have heard stories of pennies being thrown at the cops, forcing them to retreat into the bar and barricade themselves inside. What actually happened was that the Gays that were there got so mad, they removed a parking meter from the sidewalk and used it as a battering ram. Perhaps that’s where the pennies came from. Three days of rioting followed.

 

The newly formed Tactical Police Force, created for the racial riots in Harlem earlier in the year, was called down to Greenwich Village for the first time. People marched in the streets and expressed their dissatisfaction with law enforcement to any police officer they saw.

 

The Gay community now wanted to have what everyone else had, a front room bar. Gay businesses wanted to operate just like the “regular” people. The Gay joints confused the police by opening juice bars because no liquor license was needed and therefore no laws were being broken. The police then had to look for other reasons to raid. When they became disco clubs, the police once again made arrests, because a cabaret license was needed to allow dancing.

 

By this time, I owned one of these juice bars. On one particular evening I was arrested and taken to the police station, in handcuffs, and released on my own

recognizance — eight different times. Each successive arrest took less time when I discovered that I could type my release forms faster than the cops could.

 

In order to keep the hookers from posturing with their normal hipshot stance, one had to face the bar to order a drink. My first job was constantly patrolling the bar area and reminding patrons to do just that, or risk being arrested.

 

Gay bars had always been the center of Gay meetings. It was either there or the tearooms. The bars became the town halls of the community. They began to be gathering places, just to talk. The Fire House was one of the first meeting places. From the day of Stonewall’s defiance, the Gay community began to demand its rights to be equal.

 

During the next three or four years, many Gay businessmen put their money “where their mouth was” by starting openly Gay businesses and starting to assume their economic franchisements.

 

I left New York in 1972, came to Florida, and immediately applied for a liquor license. I was fingerprinted and, as usual, a background check was made. When my papers came in from New York, they looked at me and laughed. There were 154 misdemeanor arrests on record. I had to go to New York and hand carry my records back to Florida. Yes, there were 154 arrests, but there were only three convictions: 1. My garbage cans were uncovered. 2. I had no soap in the men’s room. 3. I had an unlicensed coat room.

 

This was the usual type of harassment. The three problems were actually Board of Health violations but the police were allowed to use them by choice to make an arrest.

 

I finally received my license and opened another Stonewall on Miami Beach. My “out-of-the-closet” Gay entrepreneurship began. We had the same type of harassments again, but this time we not only beat City Hall, we did it in Federal Court, and I openly ran a Gay bar. Unfortunately, it mysteriously burned down early one morning, two weeks after we won our case.

 

It’s amazing — through the years I’ve head that about five thousand people claim that they were actually at the Stonewall that fateful evening. In actuality there were approximately 400 people in all. I guess everybody wants to be in volved in an event that makes them proud and it makes no difference — they were there in spirit. The more the merrier.

 

Gay businesses are now very openly run. All you have to do is check the yellow pages, Damron’s Guide, or find a local paper or magazine. You can even check the white pages for MCCs or coalitions or AIDS organizations, etc.

 

I have been “Rightfully Proud” for more years than some of you have lived. Most of you will not recall the World’s Fair in New York when all but one bar was closed down and you had to wait in line outside the Beachcomber for an hour, or to grab the nearest lady when the white light went on. Much has happened since then, but we have a long way to go. You are reaping what my generation sowed. It’s your turn now to carry on.


 

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