Stonewall, LGBT and Me

Today marks the 45th anniversary of The Stonewall Riots, largely recognized as the beginning of the gay rights movement in The United States and, in a slightly broader stroke, the world. In June 1969, I was a pre-pubescent, awkward man-child in a small town in Ohio. I didn’t know what a homosexual even was, although I do remember Terry M. got suspended from school for saying “homo” on the bus (he was a trouble-maker).

What I did know was that I liked boys. Even then, I knew it.

I mere five years later, armed with a fake ID and older-than-my-age facial hair, I nervously entered my first gay bar, Hugel’s Nite Club in Mansfield, Ohio. Affectionately nicknamed “Green Walls” after the peeling, reformatory green paint that covered every inside wall, the bar was tended by a “robust” woman named Arlene. If your ID was good enough – and if you didn’t cause any trouble – Arlene let you in to drink 3.2 beer (remember, this was Ohio in 1974; eighteen-year-olds could drink 3.2 beer). I hid nervously at tables back by the pool table, me, along with three other friends from high school – Matt, MJ and Carla. I was lucky – I had other “gays” in high school with me, and we all managed to find each other.

Hugel’s eventually morphed into Richard’s Nite Club. It was like a gay “Cheers,” where “everybody knows your name…” I loved it there.

Over the next 5-6 years, I met and became friends with all the other colorful denizens of Hugel’s/Richard’s: Larry and Beryl, Tom F. (he could run a pool table in rotation from the break using either only his right or left hand!), Jimmie the gay and his wife Linda, Connie and Nancy, Counts and Kuntz, Doe and Dee (lesbian twin sisters!), Kurt, Kirk, Chip, Donny, Harold and Phil, as well as Chris N., Kim C. and Michael G. – the beautiful “straights” from our local Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio (Michael turned “bi” eventually!) – Mike and Wendy Bee, Rico, Janet (his real name was William Jeffrey Ray), Bill B., Kevin, Henry “Who?”, Scott P.O.M.P., Randy and Klaus, Dave the Walrus, Ric and Doo-jee, Mother Jupiter and her daughter Moon Baby (not even kidding), Jack, Gene, Ron, Big Tim, Little Tim, Just Tim, “Chicken James,” Nanette, Terry, Kerry, Rick C., Michael H., Ike, Gersha and Brenda, Anthony Tony and Albert (my Mother’s dog groomer!) and so many, many others.

I felt safe and protected in that club, although I started hitting the bars at a time when the police department routinely drove thru the parking lot, taking down all the “queer license plate numbers.” We learned to walk out to our cars in pairs, or in a group – otherwise, the police would appear, shine bright lights in our face and ask “You been drinking?” As someone there on a fake ID, that would have been trouble. We protected and watched out for one another. The police also regularly came into the bar, made Arlene and later me (I  DJ’d at Richards’s for a while), turn off the music as they shouted “ID check.” The routine? We all stood up, pulled out our ID’s and the policemen passed among the crowd, checking ID’s and just generally hassling us homos. It sucked but years later, I would learn it was an ongoing, intolerable situation just like that that prompted the riots at The Stonewall Inn. That, and – some say – Judy Garland’s death…

Remembering-Stonewall-Riots1

remembering-stonewall-riots2

Remembering-Stonewall-11Times have certainly changed – in my own lifetime, I have gone from cowering in a corner of a shitty, dank bar to being legally married to my husband. We move freely in public as a couple – no need for “fake girl friends,” no need to speak in genderless pronouns. The struggle for LGBT equality continues to be waged and I like to consider myself a long-time soldier in that army. But for many young LGBTQ-er’s, all these past events, all these memories of past injustices are abstract. I wonder if they totally understand the journey, time and sacrifice/struggle it has taken to “get here.” I challenge everyone, all my alphabet siblings (LGBTQQI,TS,A’s: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, twin-spirited and straight allies) – to look to the future while remembering the past. It is hard to know when a journey is over unless you know where it started. I hope “Rudy” is right…

Remembering-Stonewall-RiotsThank you, patrons of The Stonewall Inn, for getting “the party started” forty-five years ago. I am thankful for your courage, your conviction and your “this is bullshit” attitude. Had I been there, I woudda’ been right there along side you…

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