In Pictures: Stonewall 25 and Gay Games IV

Almost fifty years ago, on a hot summer night in June 1969, the patrons of a mafia-run bar in NYC’s Greenwich Village found themselves subject to yet another police raid and the humiliating rough treatment that came along with it.

However, on this night the patrons fought back. The combatants lived in the margin of the margins: queens, dykes, fags, trans, hustlers, homeless youth, many were people of color. The neighborhood of Greenwich Village turned out into the streets to join the melee. The riots lasted three days before temperatures cooled.

Two undercover policewomen and two undercover policemen had entered the bar earlier that evening to gather visual evidence, as the Public Morals Squad waited outside for the signal. Once inside, they called for backup from the Sixth Precinct using the bar’s pay telephone. The music was turned off and the main lights were turned on. Approximately 205 people were in the bar that night. Patrons who had never experienced a police raid were confused. A few who realized what was happening began to run for doors and windows in the bathrooms, but police barred the doors.


The Stonewall Riots added a lavender color to the counter-culture rebellions of the late 60s and inspired a feeling of liberation for LGBTQ+ people.

Within a year, gay groups organized across the country and the world. The first gay liberation march in NYC commemorated the 1-year anniversary of the rebellion that launched a movement. A movement that would change the world.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1994, I visited New York for a pilgrimage to the Stonewall Inn during the 25th anniversary commemoration of the riots. The celebration also coincided with Gay Games IV held in NYC.

I was 26. And I had a camera.

The Stonewall 25 anniversary pride march included a parade of nations to honor the Gay Games IV participants. About 15,000 people participated in either the sporting competitions (Greg Louganis was one of the competitors) or the cultural events.

The Gay Games incorporates similar rituals and symbols used in the modern Olympics (e.g., opening/closing ceremonies). But anyone can compete – there are no minimum qualifications or restrictions. Many of the sporting events are internationally recognized so new world records get recognized in the books.

The core principles of the Games are Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best.

Stonewall veterans
Amsterdam promoted the next Gay Games to be held in Amsterdam in 1998.
One cop told me the police loved working the gay pride marches because they had fun and the crowd was better behaved (and cleaned up after themselves) then any of the many other such events in NYC. What a difference 25 years made.
I saw an older straight couple marching with black and white pictures of their fallen son. The epidemic that claimed so many lives was an acknowledged part of the community experience. The couple walked slowly, cradling the photos to their chests with one hand and holding each other’s hands with the other. I cried.
One person represented Panamá in the Gay Games parade of nations. I felt proud of my dual US/Panamanian citizenship. Panama still struggles to accept the diversity of its citizens, but the visibility of its LGBT+ community is increasing.
Hawai’i had shocked the nation the year before, in 1993, when its Supreme Court ruled the State had NO valid interest in denying marriage to its same-sex citizens and that it violated the State’s Constitution and equal protection to prevent same-sex marriage. The Hawai’i legislature quickly got to work amending the state constitution to get around the ruling of the Hawai’i Supreme Court. But the idea of marriage equality couldn’t be stamped out by hostile legislatures or congress. Twenty years later, marriage equality came to Hawai’i, and then the rest of the land.
The Dutch were out in force to promote Gay Games 1998 in Amsterdam.

In 1994, fifteen states regulated sexual contact between consenting adults (Sodomy Laws). It wasn’t until 2003 that the Supreme Court, in Lawrence vs TX, tossed out all these laws (police in Houston had busted into the wrong apartment and arrested a gay couple they found in the midst of love-making).

In 1994, Bill Clinton had been elected the year before and failed to keep his promise to lift the ban on military service based on sexual orientation – he caved under the opposition and implemented “don’t ask, don’t tell” instead.

In 1994, it wasn’t uncommon to hear Christian extremists singing the praises of the AIDS epidemic claiming so many gay lives, calling it “God’s punishment”.
Will & Grace, which brought gay characters into America’s living rooms, wouldn’t start airing until 1998.

Yet, there was hope. Fire. Tenacity. Heart. Nobody was going back into the closet. And we weren’t going to just die and go away. Like the Stonewall combatants, it wasn’t about begging and pleading – it was a demand. And for me, simply being visible was an act of civil disobedience.

If we were wrong, then the entire basis for the founding of the USA was wrong.
Cobb County, just north of Atlanta, was set to host several events for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta 1996. The County had also passed nasty anti-LGBT legislation. Rainbow warriors launched a campaign with the Olympic Committee to get Olympic events out of Cobb County.
I loved Tales off the City, a hit PBS series based on the book and featuring a group of boarders including a recent arrival from the Midwest (played by Laura Linney), a Hitchcock-style mystery, and a transgender pot-smoking landlord (played by Olympia Dukakis) and her love story. All set in 1970s San Francisco. Here’s the trailer.
South Africa was in the midst of post-apartheid rebirth. Its constitution is the first in the world to explicitly name and protect its LBGT+ citizens.

After the march, our group headed to Central Park for a bit. Then rode down to the West Village (we were staying close by, in Chelsea). In order to complete our pilgrimage to have a cocktail inside the Stonewall Inn, we pushed and squeezed through a festive crowd. For about 30 minutes.

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park
Central Park
Greenwich Village
This is now the site of the Stonewall National Monument, signed into the National Park Service by President Obama

Actor Sir Ian McKellen gave the closing address of the Gay Games at Yankee Stadium on June 25, 1994.

When I got home to Tallahassee, I came out at work. This meant I was on the front lines in every area of my life – being a stand for my right to exist.

I didn’t feel capable of influencing a hostile government as an individual. But I could influence the one-on-one interactions of my daily life. Everyone who knew me could say they knew at least one gay person.

This was a lesson from the social upheavals of the 1960s: the personal is political.

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