Reflect on Queer rights origins by reading Stonewall during pride

by Alixandria Thomason

For Pride month I felt there was no better book to review than Stonewall. I hate to admit that this was my first time reading it, despite being out and proud for over a decade. It was amazing to get to learn such a pivotal part of our history. 

Stonewall was written by Martin B Duberman, a graduate of both Yale and Harvard with a Ph.D. in history. He was tenured at Princeton University until he left to become Distinguished Professor of History in New York City at Lehman College. He wrote Stonewall in 1993 to cover not only the broad historical strokes of that infamous few days, but to hone in on some of the people caught up in the events. 

Duberman mixes an almost scholarly research style of writing with an intimate look at six individuals that represented the larger whole. While it is impossible to include every detail or catalyst that made Stonewall the defining moment in queer history and the gay rights movement, Duberman does an excellent job of bringing to light the undercurrent of oppression. 

At one in the morning on June 28, 1969, the cops raided Stonewall. These raids were fairly common, but the push back they would encounter here was not. The patrons of the bar fought back, starting a riot that would last five days. For many this event is what began the shift for the LGBTQIA+ community in finally getting the rights they always deserved. This book covers in detail not only that first night, but the historic and subtle moments that led to this boiling point. We look at queer history from the fifties up to early seventies, and the cultural shifts that begin to take place. 

 Photograph: Everett/Rex Shutterstock

The six lives Duberman follows all came of age pre-Stonewall but were immersed in those hot summer nights. Craig Rodwell, Yvonne Flowers, Karla Jay, Forest Gunnison, Sylvia Rivera, and Jim Fouratt were all very different from each other, but each represent a sect of the queer community at the time. Graig Rodwell was brought up in a Christian Scientist school and founded Wilde Memorial Bookstore. Yvonne Flowers was a woman of color who had to deal with racism even in the LGBTQIA+ groups she worked with. Karla Jay worked in women’s groups as a radical feminist but still had to hide her sexuality. Forest Gunnison believed that queer folks should try to conform to society to not upset the status quo. Sylvia Rivera was a drag queen who had been fighting for herself since she was 11. Some believe that she would have identified as trans if she were still around today. And finally Jim Fouratt who was part of the “radical left.” We look at the organizations that were created because of Stonewall and the ways they continued shaping the next few years. 

In his book, Duberman gives fascinating detail into the internal political struggles over how the police were used to control the lives of queer people. They also discuss the intersectionality of queer organizations with groups such as the Black Panthers and anti-war movements. 

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

I occasionally struggled to follow what was going on as this book tended to be a bit chaotic in its organization. And because of the time there is little to no representation of bisexuality. There was also not the correct language used around gender identity. Trigger warnings for some of the words the author did decide to use. What I did like about this book though was that it was incredibly thorough and detailed. It combined personal stories with the overarching political atmosphere of the time. There were so many people the book didn’t focus on that were truly the heroes of Stonewall, from Marsha Johnson to Storme Delarverie. I wanted to include this link to an article written by Liz Rhaney who covered some of these other voices.

I hope everyone out there has an amazing pride month with so much support and love. Stand strong, support each other, and remember, the first Pride was a riot. 

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