tv 1969 Stonewall Riots CSPAN March 23, 2019 12:10pm-12:31pm EDT
next, the new school history professor claire potter talked about the 1969 stonewall riots and rise of the gay rights movement. she described the uprising and reflected on the legacy of the stonewall inn, now a national monument in new york city. we recorded the interview in chicago at the annual american historical association meeting. >> claire potter is someone who studies and teaches history at the new school. let's talk about the stonewall riots. what happened? prof. potter: stonewall riots. , when thenight patrons of the stonewall inn, who were on the margins of the gay community, not who we think of now as being in the center of gay, lesbian, and transgender politics
and the police busted the patrons of the stonewall and began to put them in a police car to take them to the station -- a routine bust, really. the kind of thing that happened all over.ople >> why then? there was no payoff, but what was motivating the police? >> of course the police at not gotten a payoff and they were trying to teach a lesson to the owners. june gardner had died that night . something snapped. the patrons decided they were mad as hell and were not going to take it anymore and would not
leave. they would not allow themselves to be arrested. .hey began throwing themselves .nd the cops got inside they started setting fires. >> was judy garland an icon of the community? >> she was a total icon, particularly to the drag community. switch that night. it could have been the fact it was hot. it could have been the fact it was summer. it could been the fact it was 1960's and all other types of groups like to get their civil rights. the black movement became radicalized. the antiwar movement became radicalized. so violent resistance against alice repression was becoming common thing. whatever it was, the patrons of the stonewall inn decided they would not allow themselves to be
pushed around anymore. one of the things that happen, people who were not patrons of the stonewall inn, but that point, the west village at become a very gay place. students, activists, all kinds of counter cultural people living in the west village. theou look at memoirs of time, there were so many people who you now think of as really important figures in lesbian and gay history -- carla j, martin they were going to a restaurant or a bar in they saw something going on. they began to support the people, the young people in the stonewall inn.
>> how hard was it for these people to come out. -- to come out? to say that you were gay or lesbian -- what were the challenges? prof. potter: one was it was illegal to be gay in many places. of course it was not written into the law is illegal to be homosexual but sexual acts are illegal. in fact, sodomy is still a crime in many states of the union and that would be defined as any form of sexual activity that is not heteronormative. there were laws against wearing the clothing of the other gender . men who cross-dressed or butch lesbians who wore men's clothes, they could be arrested for not wearing the clothes of the proper gender and taking them to these station, shaking them
down, find. they would have to bail themselves out and come to court the next day. there's a lot of routine police harassment that went on all the time. it's also true is very difficult for gay and lesbian people to, for example, get served. walked into a normal bar together, if they were suspected to be homosexual, the bar was prohibited by law from serving them. bars, thereinto were bars they could legally prohibit women unaccompanied by men from coming into a bar. bars played a special role in the community, both for place he could go and relax and be with her fans are not being harassed by anybody, but also, by 1969, it became a place where
people acquired a kind of solidarity and what we might -- up tooto-what political affiliation with each other. give us a sense geographically of what it -- of where it was located, what the community was like in 1969, and what you see today? yes, so stonewall inn today is still on christopher street. there was a short time in the 1990's when it became a bagel store, but now it is a bar again. it's a national landmark. it is right across the street from a little tiny cards that has a monument to gay and -- little tinym park that has a monument to gay and lesbian activism in it. now it's a pretty little park with flowers in it. christopher street is a very long street that extends all the way to the hudson river.
back in the 1960's, 1970's, in 1980's, the entire street was andd with bars and stores other establishments that only catered basically to gay people. it's really the heart of the gay community and the stonewall community was part of the heart of the gay community. >> the night of the riots, what happened? prof. potter: another riot. the riots went on for several days and nights and policemen not able to make people stop rioting. one of the things that was very interesting about this moment, it is really the first time in the history of the city of new york that gay and lesbian people did not accept the authority of the police. anyou simply submitted to arrest, it was humiliating. you could sometimes pay a police officer to let you go or not to put your name in the paper, but it was something you had to
endure. it was part of being a gay or lesbian person in new york. the people who really rose to the occasion and became leaders in this time. ? prof. potter: oh, yes. there are two people in particular who deserve mention. n, a marcia p. johnso transgender woman and a sex worker. she became very famous as an organizer and a political radical. actually ran for of his was. another individual, sylvia leber, also a transgender woman forbecame famous not only illegal activity, but organizing homeless youth. decades, she developed an organization called star, geth helped homeless youth
access to services, get them back to school, try to get them rehomed and try to get them off the streets and out of sex work. as you research, are there oral histories, other people you can talk to today who remember what happened? prof. potter: there certainly are. you can find them all over the place. just wrote a wonderful book called "my butch career." it has a wonderful account of the stonewall riot. -- he started the first gay and lesbian bookstore in new york city which was really right next-door to the stonewall in. there is a gentleman who is a big -- who was a big activist at the time. he is still alive and still very politically active in new york, particularly on the behalf of elderly gay and lesbian people who are having housing issues. >> your work is available
online. outhistory.org. prof. potter: it was started by jonathan katz, another great reason to talk to about the stonewall riot, who is an historian who trained himself. he wrote a book called "gay inrican history" published thinking some before, the first history of lgbt people in the united states. he did it using research from the new york public library. he continued righting history books, but at a certain point he wanted to create a history site that made a to b t history available to everybody. lgbtarted out -- that made history available to everybody. he started it out as a wiki. stories, biography views. we have a birthday segment so every day you can see what famous lgbt person was born on
that day. actually, the site is going through a big renewal now and we are looking to relaunch it next year. from theser: stonewall riots of the making 60's to don't ask, don't tell to where we are today, let's talk about the ark of the gay and lesbian movement. prof. potter: it is astonishing myme how much as happened in lifetime. at the time of the stonewall riot, i gay man or lesbian would not the allowed to have custody of their own child. today, gay men and lesbians are having their own children and interacting with other parents. , i gay and lesbian people would sometimes have private weddings at places like the stonewall inn, places where ceremoniesd have
here it they refer to them as weddings, regular weddings. now lesbians, gay men can go down to city hall or have a wedding in a church, which is extremely important. one of the things that we saw in the 1980's and 1990's was because lgbt people could not protect themselves through marriage, when someone became sick -- and this became obvious during the aids crisis -- often a person was helpless to protect the person they love. often when someone died, their family would calm and take all the belongings in the apartment, regardless of the fact that another person lived there and owned those things. that long arc of history that with with stonewall ended full citizenship for lgbt people. >> when you look at people today who really embrace their sexuality -- i think of people like ellen degeneres -- how important are they?
think theyr: oh, i are extraordinaire lee important. you do not have to be a political radical to be important to the lgbt community. what is important about ellen degeneres, people who -- many of you were in the closet themselves, watching her edging towards coming out. that episode where she actually does come out was extraordinarily important to a range of people i knew, whether they were out of the closet or not because all of a sudden, there was someone else speaking for them on a national stage. i would also save the internet has been important to the liberation of gay and lesbian people because the internet created virtual spaces where you did not have to come out to find a community. you did not have to go into a bar if you are not the kind of person who likes to go to bars. bars are not always nice places. you could go online, look for other people like you. have conversations about what it
meant to come out, what are strategies for coming out. i think the increase in communication between all to bt people has, in turn, added to our visibility, and the more visibility we have, the more heterosexual people understand we are just like them. in the political world, in colorado the first openly gay governor elected, could that have been possible 10, 12 years ago? , it would notno happen possible. i am 60 years old. i am of an age, any time a gay and lesbian person gets a let did to office, i am just thrilled. i know you care what their politics are. i am just thrilled. i think the young woman who is native american and lesbian who was elected to congress, that just close me away that she had the courage to do it.
and i think the more gay and lesbian people we get in office and as mayors and so on, the more we will see there's a range of views in the community about what social justice means and how it intersects with social justice that is important to other americans as well. >> as the research, what are the challenges move it -- moving ahead? prof. potter: it was very easy in 1969 to talk about a lesbian and gay community. even though it was very diverse, people of different races, classes, professions, but nevertheless, the visible gay community had an agenda that was pretty solid and clear. i think now gay and lesbian americans have the freedom to make all kinds of choices for themselves. for lesbians and gays who are democrats, for example, it is
comprehensible to them you could be gay and republican, too. cabina lot of log republicans. why are they republican? because they are fiscal conservatives, christian, and they are in a place in the republican party where they can be all of those things. i think that is great. ourso think sometimes identity is contradict each other and in the age of identity in which we are in, for people to have more complex identities, to say i am gay and i'm republican or i am lesbian and i am a fiscal conservative, i think it is a real challenge to explain why a liberationist may not from the past be liberationist now. >> and finally, as you walk through the stonewall in, to harken back and wonder what was
happening in june of 1969? oh, yes,ter: absolutely. at a certain level i don't have to worry so much, but in the 1970's i was hanging out in lesbian and gay bars in the west village, too, and i remember them vividly. they were dirty. they were exciting. they were full of smoke. they were full of all kinds of people to have adventures with. yes, i can easily see how a group of people who work together and taking care of each other and loving each other with all of this challenge, they spontaneously decided they were not going to take this anymore. it has been very exciting. you go to an historical site, you have to go through a whole lot of paperwork to make a case for it. happens andctually
the secretary of the interior came to do the designation herself, it was the end of a long process, historians making that case to the federal government. the obama true administration was committed to creating more lesbian and gay historic sites. the stonewall inn was one of several on a list. >> claire potter, thank you. prof. potter: thank you for having me. >> next week, more on the three-mile island nuclear accident. cbs reports -- a documentary. the hour-long investigation was the response of the local community and government officials. it interviews nuclear power proponents and skeptics. that is next weekend on real america, saturday at 10 p.m.
eastern. >> 30 years ago, on march 24, 1989, the exxon valdez oil tanker struck a reef and spilled close to 11 million gallons of crude oil in alaska's prince william sound. we talked to stan jones, former investigative reporter with the anchorage daily news and author ill" about the timeline of the disaster and the effect it had on the area. this is about 30 minutes. home whichp in my was a suburb of anchorage. it was all over the news. by the time i got to work, i knew all about it. the first reaction was disbelief.-- how could this happen? second, shock at the enormity of it. 11 square miles of ocean.
the scale was inconceivable. >> where were you working and what was your job there? an: i worked for the anchorage , also doing business, so i had covered oil in before the spill. >> how large was the industry in alaska at that time? tan: the modern oil industry as we know it today started in alaska in 1967 when there was a huge oil strike. the pipeline began operating in 1973 and that is when the traffic in prince william sound began. 16, 15 years passed before was built. the oil industry in alaska