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    Tuesday, April 23, 2024

    From the streets of New York to a beach in New London: How Stonewall led to Gay Pride events in NYC and worldwide

    FILE - In this Aug. 31, 1970 file photo, an NYPD officer grabs a youth by the hair as another officer clubs a young man during a confrontation in Greenwich Village after a Gay Power march in New York. A year earlier, the June 1969 uprising by young gays, lesbians and transgender people in New York City, clashing with police near a bar called the Stonewall Inn, was a vital catalyst in expanding LGBT activism nationwide and abroad. (AP Photo/File)
    How Stonewall led to Pride events in NYC and around the world

    Ric Silver recalls that in the early hours of June 28, 1969, he was dancing in the Stonewall Inn — not an inn, but a gay bar in Greenwich Village — but it was getting heavy with smoke, so he decided to go outside.

    He stood in the small park across Christopher Street, where the Gay Liberation Monument stands today. But when the police arrived, "I just went out of there as fast as I could."

    Silver, a Pawcatuck native who now lives in Groton, would go on to create the "Electric Slide" dance in 1976 and then be involved in the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — now just known as GLAAD, which also includes bisexual and transgender people.

    But in 1969, he was a 21-year-old aspiring dancer living in Hartford, who had been kicked out of his parents' home the year before. And he was going down to the Stonewall Inn two or three times a month.

    "It was just a big huge hall, and everybody was dancing," he said. "Everybody was half naked and having a good time."

    After the infamous riots that night in June 1969, he wouldn't even go back into the city. Afraid for his career, he was careful about where he went and who he saw. He didn't go to the gay parades, afraid someone would see him.

    But others went in a different direction after the Stonewall uprising, and Pride was born.

    From police raids to Pride

    The Stonewall Inn operated as a gay bar starting in 1967, and like other gay bars at the time, it was Mafia-run and didn't have a liquor license, operating as a purported "bottle club," David Carter noted in his book "Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution." Mafia bosses bribed police to avoid being shut down, but raids happened routinely.

    There were laws against cross-dressing, so men in drag, and women not wearing at least three articles of feminine clothing, were arrested.

    Raids were common, but things went down differently in the early hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969.

    Those who weren't arrested and were allowed to leave congregated outside instead of dispersing, and the crowd quickly grew as passersby stopped. A struggle began as police tried to get a woman in men's clothing in a paddy wagon, and bystanders recalled that the crowd became violent after she shouted, "Why don't you guys do something?"

    People began throwing coins, then bottles. Police barricaded themselves inside the Stonewall Inn as they waited for backup, and men outside used a parking meter they uprooted as a battering ram against the door.

    The crowd scattered after the Tactical Patrol Force of the New York City Police Department arrived; 13 people were arrested but nobody was critically injured or killed. The Stonewall Inn reopened the following night and rioting continued, but the bar went out of business a few weeks later.

    Stonewall historian David Carter wrote that while there had been previous protests and acts of resistance, Stonewall "was of a different order for four reasons: it was the only sustained uprising, lasting six days; it was the only one that involved thousands of people; it was the only one that got much media coverage; and it was unique in engendering a new kind of militant organization."

    The "militant organizations" he referred to were the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance, which both formed in 1969. These groups and more emerged as a split formed in the gay rights movement, with a new generation of activists viewing previous methods as too tame and nonconfrontational.

    The Mattachine Society was a gay rights organization founded in 1950, and it was involved in the Annual Reminder pickets in Philadelphia from 1965 to 1969. Activists Frank Kameny insisted on suits for men and skirts or dresses for women.

    On June 28, 1970, people marked the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots with Christopher Street Liberation Day, named for the location of Stonewall and to focus attention "onto the gay and lesbian struggle for liberation happening in the streets," according to the New York Public Library's archives.

    This was the very first Gay Pride march in New York City. The key architect was activist Craig Rodwell, who had led a "Gay Power!" chant in the Stonewall Riots and condemned the Mafia-police relationship around gay bars.

    Marches also took place in Chicago and Los Angeles, and in the following years, Gay Pride marches expanded to many other cities. In November 1979 — less than a year after the assassination of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California — the first national march took place, in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

    As for the Rainbow Flag: That was the creation of San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, in 1978.

    From New York to New London

    New London would not have a Pride event until 2013, when OutCT held it's Gay Day event, the brainchild of Constance Kristofik.

    When Kristofik, 53, came out in the 1990s, she was attending a lot of Pride festivals, "and that gave me a lot of space to be me." She recalls going not only to NYC Pride, but also to Pride events over the years in Albany, Philadelphia, Boston and Providence.

    "For me, it created a safe space," she said. "I didn't feel so isolated, and that's where I learned about civil rights."

    Kristofik went to the Millennium March on Washington in 2000, which inspired her to become involved. She joined Pride of the Greater Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania the following year, and became president.

    She moved to New London when she started her master's in public administration at the University of New Haven, and in 2010, she did a feasibility study on whether New London could support a Pride festival.

    With the encouragement of former Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, she put together a board for OutCT, and the New London Pride Festival has been held annually at Ocean Beach Park.

    OutCT was formed with the immediate goal of a Pride festival and the short-term goal of a youth group, which has also been accomplished. Kristofik would also like to see an LGBTQIA+ community center come to New London.

    She said they decided not to have a parade because of the expense — a trend she's seen elsewhere in the country.

    Another Pride trend she's seen is festivals becoming more local, happening in smaller towns. She's also seen less of a focus on politics.

    "Those current issues, they're still brought up at the festival, but it's not as prominent as it was in the beginning," Kristofik said. "And also there's the celebratory side to the festival, about celebrating our diversity, our authenticity, and the progress we have made since the Stonewall Riots, but we still have far to go."

    e.moser@theday.com

    Local singer/songwriter Carrie Ashton performs at Ocean Beach Park in New London Sunday, August 30, 2015, as part of the New London Pride Festival.(Tali Greener/Special to The Day)

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