Stonewall: The Legacy

Today’s the day, everyone! Fifty years since the first night of the Stonewall uprising! Deciding what to write today was difficult, but I finally decided…. this is a pretty momentous occasion, especially for a queer history web site. So I’m going to talk about what sets Stonewall apart, and what lessons we learned 50 years ago that we can still be carrying with us today.

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People always like to say that Stonewall was the start of the gay rights movement but if you’ve been following us for a while, you know that’s not strictly true. There had been organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis fighting for gay rights for decades. We’d already had riots like Compton’s Cafeteria, the Black Cat Riot, and Cooper’s Do-nuts, we’d already had protests like the Annual Reminders and the Dewey’s Sit-In. The gay rights movement was pretty well in effect by 1969.

So what made Stonewall so important? Why is that the moment that changed everything? Because that’s the first time we stood up against the people oppressing us together. The LGBTQIA+ community, even now, is rife with division and it was then too. The divisions were different, but they were there. The community was broken up into the “butch” gays — the “respectable” straight-passing men who could blend into mainstream society; the queens — basically any more effeminate gay men could fit into this group which was also divided up by drag queens, transvestites (who, now, we’d mostly call transgender women), street queens, and “scare queens.” There were similar divisions between lesbians — butch and femme, passing or not. And in all of those groups, of course, there was a division between the white people and the people of color.

But on June 28, 1969 none of those divisions in the queer community mattered. The divisions were still there, but it didn’t matter. We had each other’s back. Stonewall was mostly full of butch gays — and mostly white gays at that, and the police were letting most people who weren’t in the “wrong clothes for their sex” go free — but they didn’t leave, they stayed outside and watched and drew in a crowd. The street queens weren’t in the bar at all, they would have been fine — but they were the ones who started fighting back. Because — for maybe the first time ever — it wasn’t only about self-preservation. And for five nights of rioting, we all had each other’s backs. That’s what changed — that’s why we’re able to look at Stonewall as the beginning of something.

To me, that’s why Stonewall was so powerful and important. It showed that, as long as we are looking out for each other and working together, that there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.

We’re not yet at the bright future every single one of the heroes of Stonewall we’ve talked about this month — and all of the ones we haven’t talked about yet — had envisioned for us. But I can promise, that is how we’ll get there. Working together, as a community.

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I know this was like hokey and sappy or whatever, but it’s over now. Go celebrate!

Christine Jorgensen

Christine_Jorgensen_1954Christine Jorgensen was the first US citizen to receive gender reassignment surgery (or, gender confirmation surgery, as we call it now). She was born May 30, 1936 in the Bronx, New York and given the name George William Jorgensen Jr.

In 1945 she graduated high school and was drafted into the army. She served in World War II. After the war she attended Mohawk Valley Community College, the Progressive School of Photography in New Haven, and the Manhattan Medical and Dental Assistant School.

At some point after returning home from the war, she learned about gender reassignment surgery and decided that was something she wanted to pursue. Guided by Dr. Joseph Angelo, the husband of a classmate at the Manhattan Mental and Dental Assistant School, she learned everything she could about the surgery. At the time, the only doctors who would perform the surgery were in Sweden. While traveling there, she met a Dr. Christian Hamburger who specialized in rehabilitative hormone therapy. Christine opted to stay in Denmark a have hormone replacement therapy with Dr. Hamburger. She ultimately chose the name Christine for herself in Dr. Hamburger’s honor.

Christine managed to get special permission from the Danish government to undergo the surgeries she was seeking at a hospital in Copenhagen. On October 8, 1951 — only partially through the series of surgeries — she wrote a letter to friends in the United States where she stated:

“As you can see by the enclosed photos, taken just before the operation, I have changed a great deal. But it is the other changes that are so much more important. Remember the shy, miserable person who left America? Well, that person is no more and, as you can see, I’m in marvelous spirits.”

After her second surgery (a penectomy), she returned to the United States where she would eventually get vaginoplasty, with the help of Dr. Angelo, once it was permitted in the country.

7-christine-jorgensen-ap_540806029On December 1, 1952, the New York Daily News put Christine on their front page with the headline “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell: Operations Transform Bronx Youth”. The article claimed that Christine was the first person to receive a “sex change”. Because of this article, Christine became an instant celebrity — and Christine used this platform to speak up on behalf of transgender people everywhere.

After her vaginoplasty, Christine tried to marry twice. First, she became engaged to a labor union statistician named John Traub, but the engagement was called off. In 1959 she got engaged to a typist named Howard J. Knox. Knox lost his job when news of the engagement became public — and their request for a marriage license was denied because Christine was still legally considered a man.

Christine began working as an actress and a nightclub performer — noted for singing songs like “I Enjoy Being a Girl”. One of her performances was recorded and is available on iTunes — or so I’m told by Wikipedia; I haven’t checked yet but I did check Spotify and it definitely is not there. (Though I did find a song called “Christine” by a Jimmy Jorgensen but I’m really sure there’s no connection.) She toured and spoke at college campuses throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, giving transgender people even greater visibility.

In 1989, Christine stated that she had given the sexual revolution a “good swift kick in the pants”. She passed away on May 3 of that year due to bladder and lung cancer. In 2012, she was inducted into the Legacy Walk.

(Adapted from this Facebook post.)

Mother Clap’s Molly House

Through the various posts I’ve shared, we’ve talked a fair amount about the legality of homosexuality in various countries. What we haven’t talked much about is how the LGBTQ+ community came together when its very existence was a criminal offense.

In England, at least, gay men came together in places called “molly houses” — which were essentially taverns, inns, etc — where gay men could socialize or have sexual encounters. Other activities common in molly houses included various toying with gender roles — everything from adopting “female dialect” (I don’t know what that is — talking like a girl?), cross-dressing, and adopting female personas to false wedding ceremonies and “mock birth rituals” (that doesn’t sound like fun to me but okay). Although “buggery” could be a capital offense in England until 1861, those caught were often placed in pillories — as a result, pillories were frequently built near known molly houses and even came to be a symbol of them.

Probably the most famous and most well-documented of these was Mother Clap’s molly house, a coffee house run by a woman named Margaret Clap. Not much is known about her, but Mother Clap’s molly house was open from 1724 to 1726. Margaret may have run the coffee house out of her own private home, and she was said to only leave the premises to purchase alcohol from the tavern across the street, which she would serve to her customers. Although she undoubtedly did make money from running the establishment, her primary goal seemed to be taking care of and supporting the men who stayed there. One man who was a boarder there for two years (which was like, the whole time it was open) was arrested for sodomy, and she provided false testimony in his defense.

In February of 1726, Mother Clap’s molly house was raided by law enforcement (Wikipedia says by the police, but I’m fairly certain there was no formalized police force in London yet?) at the behest of the Society for the Reformation of Manners. (Which would raid a number of molly houses in London before 1730.) The Society had turned a number of “mollies” into informants who had surveilled the molly house for at least a year prior to the raid. These informants were not prosecuted as thanks for their cooperation. (And this would not be the last time that this tactic was used against homosexual men — this would last into the 20th century.)

Mother Clap herself was sentenced to stand in the pillory at Smithfield Market, pay 20 marks, and then spend two years in prison. What became of her after this is unknown. Mother Clap is one of only two individuals recorded to have been formally charged with keeping a molly house and found guilty (although a large number of people were charged with sodomy who were probably keepers of a molly house).

Three men arrested in the raid on Mother Clap’s molly house were found guilty and hung on May 9, 1726. The trials of these men — Gabriel Lawrence (a 43-year old milkman), William Griffin (a 43-year old furniture upholsterer), and Thomas Wright (who may have helped Mother Clap run the house or had a molly house of his own) — provide much of the details of what we now know about the LGBT community of London in the early 18th century. Dozens of others were arrested in the raid, but they were fined, put in the pillory, and imprisoned — but not put to death. I honestly can’t find any details to explain why those three in particular were singled out for execution, but knowing what I do about British society at the time it seems likely these were just the lowest class people arrested or someone influential had a grudge.

These molly houses were the precursors to the bars that we still see as being a safe place, a sanctuary for our community. As far as I know, we’ve pretty much just done away with the mock birth rituals (which, personally, I’m completely okay with.)

(Adapted from this Facebook post.)

Cooper’s Do-nuts

Pretty much everyone knows about Stonewall, but the LGBTQ+ community has been rioting since a lot longer than 1969. Let’s talk about the Cooper’s Do-nuts Riot.

Picture it: It’s the end of the 1950’s. It’s a simpler time — but things are changing. Despite that fact, minorities — especially LGBTQ+ people — are still cowering in fear from police and never fighting back.

And boy are they fearful in Los Angeles. William H. Parker became the chief of the LAPD in 1950, and decided to make stamping out sexual perversion his number one priority. Arrests for homosexuality increased by more than 85% in the following decade. Because the police tended to target transgender people — who often stood out more — most LA gay bars had tried to stop the police from raiding them by banning anyone who’s perceived gender wasn’t in line with the sex on their driver’s license. That’s right — gay bars with no drag queens! Boring.

CooperDonuts-from-TheExilesNow, on Main Street there was a 24 hour donut shop called Cooper’s Do-nuts. (Yeah, they hyphenated the word “donut” and yeah, I’m annoyed about it. Even though I’m sure it’s grammatically correct.) I haven’t been able to find the exact address which is a total shame because I really want to know what’s there now. During the day, it was a popular hangout for cops — but when the sun went down, it became a hangout for people who had nowhere else to go at night: mainly transgender people and sex workers.

CityofNightRechyOne night in May of 1959 a few cops came by — or possibly stayed late, I’m not really clear on that — and decided to check everyone’s IDs to make sure their perceived gender matched their legal gender. One man present was a young gay man named John Rechy who would later include this incident in his novel City of Night. The police arrested two gay male sex workers, two drag queens, and a “young man just cruising”. One of those five people objected to having all five of them shoved into the back of one police car — and that was the spark that set it off.

The other customers of the donut shop went out into the street — hurling anything they could get their hands on at the police. Coffee cups, napkins, paper plates, donuts — yeah, donuts can be a weapon if you’re queer — and just general trash. The police escaped and came back with reinforcements. They shut down Main Street, but the protesters didn’t care — by this point the crowd had grown; they were simultaneously rioting and dancing in the street. Though the police made a lot of arrests, the street was still shut down for the better part of the day until the crowd dispersed.

This was the first time the LGBTQ+ community in the United States rioted. As we all know, it wouldn’t be the last.

(*Heavily* adapted from this Facebook post.)

Albert Cashier

I want to talk about a figure from America’s past: Albert Cashier. I don’t generally like ascribing queer identities to people who haven’t personally identified themselves that way, but I would call Albert Cashier transgender. However, to be completely upfront and fair, we didn’t have that kind of language to describe gender identity yet. I can explain my reasons for making the assumption that Albert Cashier was transgender (and believe me, I will), but why don’t you read this and decide for yourself? Let’s get into it.

19029452_10100196774424649_5941864250246528591_nAlbert Cashier was born in Ireland on December 25, circa 1843 to parents Sallie and Patrick Hodgers, who named their child Jennie Irene Hodgers. Details from his early life are a bit hit-or-miss, as Cashier did not like to talk about his early life (and mostly did so while elderly and disoriented). Most of Cashier’s accounts, however, state that he first gave himself the name Albert when his stepfather dressed him in boys clothing in order to put the child into the workforce.

By 1862, Cashier had stowed away to the United States and taken up residence in Belvidere, Illinois. It was in that year that Cashier enlisted in the Union Army, joining the 95th Illinois Infantry. The 95th fought in 40 battles during the Civil War. Among these was the siege at Vicksburg, during which Cashier was captured by Confederate soldiers. He managed to escape, on his own, and returned to his unit. The 95th continued fighting until shortly after the war ended — as news of the end of the war did not reach them for several days. On August 17, 1865 the regiment was disbanded and Cashier was honorably discharged. Cashier had managed to survive the Civil War, and did so without suffering any severe enough injuries that anyone discovered he was biologically female. Cashier had earned a reputation for running headlong into danger and escaping unscathed.

Cashier returned to Illinois. Over the next four decades, Cashier worked in Illinois at a number of jobs, mostly involving manual labor. He also began to collect his veteran’s pension, living a fairly uneventful life until 1911. It was at this point that, in the course of his job at the time, a car hit Cashier and broke his leg near the hip. When he was examined by a doctor, Cashier’s secret was discovered. Fortunately, his employer and his doctor agreed to keep the secret for Cashier. Unfortunately, the injury meant that Cashier could no longer work. He moved into the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois.

In 1913, Cashier’s secret was discovered again — and knowledge of it began to spread. It is a little unclear how exactly this happened — and whether it happened before or after Cashier was moved to a the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane. (And when I say a little unclear, I mean I’ve now read several different biographies all of which give very precise details and none of which seem to line up whatsoever.) At the mental institution, Cashier was forced to wear skirts and women’s clothing for the first time in over 50 years. Cashier insisted upon pinning the skirts up into make-shift pants, which offended some of the other residents of the hospital but was permitted by the staff.

With Cashier’s secret out, the state of Illinois pursued charges against him for falsely collecting a soldier’s pension. Every single surviving member of Cashier’s old unit, however, came to Cashier’s defense — describing his bravery in the field of battle and consistently describing Cashier as a man. The state was forced to drop the charges.

At some point in 1915, Cashier tripped on his skirt and broke a hip. The injury became infected, ultimately leading to Cashier’s death on October 10. At the insistence of those who had served with him, he received an official Grand Army of the Republic funeral and was buried in full military honors. His tombstone read “Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G. 95th Ill. Inf.”, although this was partly because it took the executor of Cashier’s estate nine years to trace him back to the name Jennie Hodgers.

As I said earlier, because gender identity was truly not understood the way it is today, there’s a case to be made that Cashier wasn’t transgender. Personally, given the descriptions of his behavior after being forced into women’s clothes, I don’t think that case holds up. In any case, the people in Cashier’s life were overwhelmingly positive and supportive when the truth came out, which was remarkable for the time.

(Adapted from this Facebook post.)