Today's the Day: Celebrating Stonewall 40

Posted on: June 28th, 2009 by Guest Writer



By Dave Bidon

Every year on the last Sunday of June, New York City's Pride March takes over the streets Manhattan, snarling east-west traffic and transforming one of the world's most iconic urban landscapes into the backdrop for a celebration that is part protest and part art. Though every Pride March is undeniably special, this year's will be different, and the hundreds upon hundreds of contingents that are waving rainbow flags in the day-long trek will notice as soon as they hit Christopher Street.

During the hot summer of 1969, this narrow street was thrust into the national spotlight when a riot erupted between the police and the gay patrons of the Stonewall Inn. They definitely didn't know it in the heat of the moment, but what they did launched a civil rights movement that officially turns forty years old this year.

Now, I used to dance at the Stonewall, and I can tell you that there are a lot of myths out there about that critical weekend. Let me start by giving you an idea of what it was like to be young and gay in New York in the late 1960's, as well as what is was like to visit a gay bar in those days.

First, it was literally against New York's liquor laws for there to be more than four gay people in a legal drinking establishment. That meant that any bar that catered to gays was illegal. Gay bars were all owned by "organized crime" or sometimes by cops, but never by gay people. They tolerated us just long enough to take our money for watered down drinks. Most places like the Stonewall were absolute dumps – the walls and windows were painted black, and there was usually a rough looking guy (think "Sopranos") at the door who decided who got in.

Gay bars were often raided by the police, so they opened and closed all the time. I was in a few potential raids and there was a script. A couple of plainclothes cops would walk in, push the jukebox away from the wall and pull the plug. One of them would stand and stare, daring us to say something. The other would walk over to the bar. If the cash register opened, ka-ching, they both turned and left, and the bartender or manager would plug in the jukebox and tell us it's over. If the register didn't open, one of the cops would walk to the door and let in some uniforms. Then the announcement: "This is an illegal establishment..." Sometimes they just made the patrons leave and arrested the manager, bartenders and waiters. Other times they brought everybody down to the station.

These were the days of Weegee photos of "perverts" getting into paddy wagons and then having their names published all over the press. You didn't even say the word "homosexual" in mixed company back then. It was pretty frightening.

A lot of Stonewall myths have arisen from a lack of understanding of the time. Stonewall catered largely to young gays. Yes, many of us didn't have a permanent address, and a few may have accepted money once in a while from an older guy who offered, but we weren't really hustlers or homeless. Full drag was only allowed two nights a week at the Stonewall –Tuesday and Sunday I think, but definitely not on a Friday or Saturday when the riot took place.

That's the second most common myth. Absolutely all of us were flamboyant back then, both in dress and manner. We wore silk scarves and beads and baby blue bellbottoms (we were just taking hippie a few steps further) and we also styled our longer hair. This was still a few years before most young gays would even dream of looking butch. The Christopher Street clone hadn't been invented yet. So, when you see the pictures today, we may look like drag queens, but we were really only "fem and fierce."

And yes, at the time of he riots, Judy Garland's body was on view at Frank Campbell's uptown. However, most of the regular Stonewall denizens were too young and could have cared less. We were into Aretha and dancing to "My Cherie Amour."

The police were raiding bars left and right that month. And that was after a long period with fewer and fewer incidents, so we were taken by surprise and getting worried. The story going around the city was that the police commissioner was at war with John Lindsay, our very liberal independent mayor. Supposedly the commissioner had learned that Lindsay's brother was gay, and he was trying to catch him in a raid to embarrass the mayor.

I wasn't at the Stonewall that fateful night, but I was there the next day. My best Lesbian friend and I went running and skipping all around the Village, jumping in and out of stores and yelling "I'm Gay!" at everybody and laughing together. Somehow, I think we were all ready for it at the time. It felt like queer VE Day or something. Gay people – especially young gays – had been getting angry for a long while. After all, this was the sixties: civil rights, anti-Vietnam and hippies. We'd just had enough.

That was officially the beginning of a new life for of us. We embraced our gay identities and wore them on the outside in defiance. And it gave us new feelings of freedom, righteousness and joy. This was like an electric shock that went through us all overnight. A new gay consciousness was riding on the waves of the many social movements of the sixties, and we weren't going back.

A year and day later, I joined the first Stonewall march. I remember we gathered on Christopher Street in little nervous groups that morning. There weren't many people there, and I think we delayed our start time a little. It was scary. There were signs that said "Hi Mom." Then I looked across the street and saw TV crews. Suddenly, I put the two together and realized that I could outing myself. I quickly moved back a few rows from the front of the march and started watching for cameras.

I can still remember what it felt like to step out onto 6th Avenue. I experienced complete internal panic and then I just let go. We didn't know if there would be gangs ready to beat us up or ugly name shouting or what. This wasn't a parade like later years; it was a demonstration. And it wasn't a march really, as it was more like speed walking. By the time we got up into the teens, we started getting applause here and there, and we could see lots of gay people hanging out of windows and standing on the sidewalk trying to make up there minds about joining. So we had our first chants, "Out of Your Buildings, Off of the Sidewalks, Into the Streets!"

And people did just that.

It got a little more festive as we got further uptown, and I remember meeting Taylor Meade, poet and sometime Warhol superstar (who was a little too solicitous) and other notable queers of the day. I believe I learned my favorite chant of all time that afternoon. A cute guy with a tambourine jumped out ahead and announced, "a Tarantella." All I could think of was that song by Cyril Richard as Captain Hook. Anyway, it went: "Ho Ho Homosexual, the Ruling Class Ineffectual!"

The last thing I remember was the subway ride back downtown. The cars were full of shirtless beauties all going back to our turf – the Village.

Photo by Ross Bradford

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Bad News for Civil War Heritage: Local Planning Commission Approves “Wilderness Wal-Mart”

Posted on: June 26th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments


Written by Rob Nieweg

Yesterday, the Orange County (VA) Planning Commission voted 5 – 4 to recommend approval of Wal-Mart’s flawed plan to construct 240,000 square feet of big-box development within the boundaries of the Wilderness Battlefield and across the road from the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. The final decision to approve or reject Wal-Mart will be made by the Orange County Board of Supervisors later this summer.

We are working with the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition to persuade Wal-Mart to relocate its massive development away from the historic battlefield and National Park.

The Planning Commission’s vote in favor of the infamous “Wilderness Wal-Mart” is particularly problematic because there are alternative sites available in Orange County that would protect this nationally significant historic place while still benefiting Wal-Mart and the citizens of Orange County. Several local property owners have offered alternative sites to Wal-Mart.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation owns James Madison’s Montpelier and 2,700 acres of historic land in Orange County. As a longtime “citizen” of the county, we don’t oppose growth in the county. In fact, in January 2009 the National Trust and our preservation allies offered to fund a land-use planning process to envision a better balance of battlefield preservation and sustainable economic growth at this vulnerable spot, which is the gateway to Orange County and the National Park. Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors has dismissed our offer to help shape development.

Local members of the National Trust fear that Orange County decision-makers are ignoring the many local and national voices raised in opposition to Wal-Mart at the doorstep of the National Park. Consequently, we are making every effort to share our grave concerns directly with senior executives at Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters and have asked them to relocate Wal-Mart’s planned store to another site in Orange County away from the battlefield and National Park. We sincerely hope that Wal-Mart will listen. It would be a great shame to mark the upcoming Civil War Sesquicentennial with the unwarranted destruction of Wilderness Battlefield. Development of a Superstore on Wilderness Battlefield would be a black mark on Wal-Mart’s national reputation with countless Americans.

Please join thousands of Americans by signing our petition to protect historic Wilderness Battlefield.

Rob Nieweg is the Director of the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

This Place Matters: The Heart of LGBT Oklahoma

Posted on: June 25th, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment


Dennis R. Neill Equality Center

By Debby Mayabb

The Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma matters because it is the permanent home of Oklahomans for Equality – the oldest and largest organization serving the LGBT community of Oklahoma, as well as the four-state region of the Heartland.

The Equality Center is housed in a 1920's structure originally built as the business office of an oil refinery. The refinery lasted only eight months, and in 1921, the Independent Torpedo Factory purchased the building to use for its labs and business offices. Prior to 1930, torpedoes were manufactured in Tulsa as blasting mechanisms for drilling oil wells. The walls of the defunct oil refinery were reinforced so that they could withstand the blast of nitroglycerin explosions.

Today, it's our Equality Center.

In 1980, Dennis R. Neill founded a group by the name of Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights. In the 1990's, the organization opened the very first LGBT community center in Oklahoma. After 12 years of rented space and nervous landlords who would not allow the organization to display rainbow flags or signage, a capital campaign was launched to raise the funds necessary to create a permanent home for our LGBT community. Seven years of fundraising lead to the purchase of 621 E. 4th Street, and after 7,000 hours of volunteer-led renovations, the doors were opened.

The Robert S. Cisar memorial lobby maintains the original terrazzo floors, a 1920’s operational office dumbwaiter, and the original accounting partitions that lead to the still-functional vault that was installed by the Schwab Safe Company when the building first opened nine decades ago. Today, the lobby houses a reception area, a Pride gift shop and the staff offices of Oklahomans for Equality. It opens up into the Sue Welch Great Hall, which is named after the chair of the building's capital campaign. This unique space functions as the "living room" of the Equality Center, and it is where panels of the internationally-famous AIDS Quilt (once displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC) are on permanent display.

The Great Hall leads into the renovated elevator lobby, where the doors of the original freight elevator are on display. In this space, you'll also find community conference rooms and our art gallery, which offers a unique venue for regional artists through monthly showcases.

The Equality Center’s event room is the largest of our renovated spaces, and is home to holiday balls, trade shows, education and employment fairs, theatrical productions, and concerts. Because of its size, it's also where floats are built and decorated for our annual Pride parade.

On the second level of the building, you'll find the Veteran’s Billiard Lobby. This area was dedicated on November 8, 2008, to honor the many LGBT veterans of the United States. The Lambda Bowling League raised the funds to purchase and donate the pool table in honor of Sergeant Harold Joseph Hooker, a highly-decorated veteran who served in the Korean War. Close by, the Nancy and Joe McDonald Rainbow Library has over 10,000 books, including the largest children's section for LGBT families in the region. At any given time, over 5,000 books are checked out by Center members, as well as by high school and college student groups. The library also houses its own legal clinic, where attorneys aid members of our community with their legal issues on a pro bono basis.

Interested in some yoga or strength training? The second floor also features our Wellness Center, which is used for a variety of health and wellness-related endeavors. In the common area, the David Bohnett Cyber Center was created as a place where Center visitors could access the Internet. David Bohnett actually donates computers to LGBT community centers nationwide, and Oklahomans for Equality was the first center to be granted this wonderful resource. Here, members of our community check their e-mail, do homework, and fill out job applications.

The waiting area outside the Wellness Center and the David Bohnett Cyber Center was created by physician Dr. Clio Robertson in loving memory of his son, Ryan, who at the young age of 22 committed suicide. This area serves as a place of serenity and contemplation. Nearby, the Neill/Southard History Project Room archives every piece of news that has been generated by Tulsa Oklahomans for Human Rights and Oklahomans for Equality, creating a fascinating look at LGBT life in our state.

Sharing the same floor, the Center’s medical services room offers HIV testing five days a week. It is here that the Tulsa County Health Department has monthly health fairs focusing on issues such as diabetes screening, cholesterol testing, breast examines, hepatitis testing, and weight loss instructions. Nearby, a classroom area serves as the Center's venue for lectures on LGBT issues and workshops on coming out.

For these reasons (and so many more), the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center is a place that truly matters.

Debby Mayabb is the office manager for Oklahomans for Equality, which, like so many things, is proud to call the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center home.


Join the National Trust for Historic Preservation as we celebrate Pride + Preservation throughout the month of June. Want to help us show some pride in place? Upload a This Place Matters photo of a building, site or neighborhood that matters to you and your local LGBT community.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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Federal Officials Commit to Restore the Authentic Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery

Posted on: June 25th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 6 Comments


The Tomb of the Unknowns (Photo: ©Granitespeaker,

The Tomb of the Unknowns (Photo: ©Granitespeaker,

At long last, Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have committed to restore – rather than replace -- the historic Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. According to the Army Corps, the restoration work will begin in September 2009.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been leading the public campaign to save the Tomb of the Unknowns with the vocal support of many thousands of National Trust members and friends across the country who vigorously support restoration.

The Tomb of the Unknowns was established shortly after World War I to honor our nation’s war dead, particularly those who have lost both their lives and their identities in combat. The Congressionally-authorized tomb monument was created and installed in 1932 according to the designs of architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones. The monument’s inscription reads: “Here Rests in Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.” Three bas relief sculptures on the marble monument represent Victory, Valor, and Peace.

Generations of veterans and their families have honored our war dead at the Tomb of the Unknowns. In fact, millions of people visit the Tomb every year, making it one of the best-known historic places in the United States.

Two years ago, in September 2007, officials at Arlington National Cemetery and the Army Corps of Engineers had finalized an ill-considered plan to discard and replace the authentic tomb monument with a “replica.” The tomb was marked for destruction solely because of two repairable cracks in the 48-ton block of marble.

In response, we raised the alarm nationally, and more than 4,000 members and friends of the National Trust urgently wrote to the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery and to their members of Congress to support preservation of the tomb monument. Senator Jim Webb and Senator Daniel Akaka were instrumental in saving the tomb monument. In January 2008 President Bush signed into law legislation crafted by Senators Webb and Akaka to require the Army to fully explore various treatments for the historic tomb monument, including restoration. This temporary reprieve saved the monument. The Army’s report stated that:

  • Marble conservation experts agree that the monument’s cracks are nonstructural and can be repaired to be virtually invisible to the millions of annual visitors to the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • Replacement of the tomb monument with a replica would cost $2.2 million, while preservation-based repair would cost $65,000.

To its credit, the Army Corps informed the National Trust on June 8, 2009, that the Cemetery and Army have reversed course and now have committed to properly repair the tomb monument beginning in September 2009.
We are very pleased that the Arlington Heritage Alliance, Preservation Virginia, American Institute for Conservation, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Arlington County government, and Virginia Department of Historic Resources each has strongly supported repairing the authentic monument.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Student Proposals, Structural Analysis Study for Miami Marine Stadium

Posted on: June 25th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments


Written by Karen Nickless

Grafitti at Miami Marine Stadium (Photo: Spillis Candela DMJM Archives)

Grafitti at Miami Marine Stadium (Photo: Spillis Candela DMJM Archives)

The City of Miami closed Miami Marine Stadium in 1992. Since then it has been neglected, sitting in a sea of empty asphalt. Almost every square inch is covered with graffiti. The city plans to redevelop the site and the rest of Virginia Key, but they are lukewarm about preserving the Stadium.

Fortunately, there are a large number of people and organizations dedicated to saving Miami Marine Stadium. The Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, working with Trust local partner, Dade Heritage Trust, have led the effort. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized Miami Marine Stadium as a stunning but endangered work of modern architecture when we named it to this year’s list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Jorge Hernandez, National Trust trustee, architect and University of Mimi professor of architecture, involved his architecture students in a semester-long Preservation Planning Studio, studying the site and designing plans for its revitalization. The Stadium’s architect, Hilario Candela, participated, giving the students great insight into his thought process while designing the structure.

Miami Marine Stadium (Photo: Spillis Candela DMJM Archives )

Miami Marine Stadium (Photo: Spillis Candela DMJM Archives )

On May 8 the students presented three plans to the public. Their challenge was to find a reuse for the site that met the specifications of the City of Miami, including a certain number of boat slips, parking spaces, etc. The city did not insist on the preservation of the Stadium. The students did.

The students looked at every detail of the site. Just a few of their innovative ideas:

  • Replace the current parking green space with tree-shaded remote parking laid out like old Florida attractions, with short roads feeding larger arteries. Use a pervious surface where possible, reducing the impact on the environment.
  • Expand and reorient the marina to create more boat slips than required by the City. Use an innovative new storage system to fit more dry slips into less space.
  • Place the ticket booth on the lawn to create room in the Stadium for other needs. This will encourage visitors to linger on the lawn and appreciate the architecture of the Stadium. The newly designed ticket booth resembles a Fresnel lens.
  • Move concessions, originally inside the Stadium, to the ground floor. Orient them to the exterior, allowing them to be open even when the stadium is closed. Spaces will be available for temporary vendors and permanent businesses.
  • Preserve some of the graffiti as part of the history of the Stadium, either as panels or as mosaics that will give visual interest and take visitors by surprise at various locations as they take their seats.

The students were so enthusiastic about their project that they requested meeting every day instead of three times a week and added extra tasks to their project, such as writing a National Register nomination. Working with Hilario and Jorge in a unique multi-generational collaboration resulted in innovative and yet practical solutions for the reuse of Miami Marine Stadium. The students’ plans have been presented to the City of Miami.

In addition to the design plans, the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium will be able to give the city a current a structural analysis and cost estimate for reuse of the structure. The $50,000 study is funded by a coalition of local, national and international preservation organizations: the National Trust, World Monuments Fund, The Villagers and Miami Dade County Commissioner Carlos Jimenez’s office.

With these tools in hand and continued public support, Miami Marine Stadium has a good chance of again hosting boat racing, concerts and other events and becoming a vital part of Miami. See you at the next Jimmy Buffett concert!

Karen Nickless, PhD is a field representative for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Southern Office.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.