The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

When Politics Determines History

There is always a problem when politics gets involved in history, but then the two are intimately related for obvious reasons. Thus history constantly has to be corrected. Sadly, it is sometimes “corrected” dishonestly for political reasons, and other times it is corrected to correspond with the actual facts. Today we have political entities deciding what is or isn’t historically significant and those decisions are often wrong.

Take the plague put up by Los Angeles as an example. It claims the first LGBT civil rights demonstration took place at the Black Cat club in Los Angeles on February 11, 1967. It has also been widely claimed there were riots there in response to a police raid. This is a plague installed by the Cultural Heritage Commission of the City of Los Angeles, a political body.

Michael Bedwell argues neither is true and the facts are on his side. Bedwell notes there were no contemporary accounts of the incident including a riot and that was a later claim, one easily disproved and the second photo I have included does just that.

This photo shows a 1965 demonstration in favor of rights for gay people in front of Independence Hall. The man holding the first sign mentioning “second-class” citizens is an old friend of mine, Bill Kelley, who I knew in Chicago. He’s now deceased. [Bill and I appeared together to testify to a Congressional Committee against anti-gay clauses in laws related to visiting the U.S. as a tourist.]

Bedwell noted media outlets reported the false claim of the Commission without verification. Bedwell wrote:

“The first? By the time of the Black Cat protest there had been over 20 gay rights demonstrations across the country.

There had been four at the White House alone, four others in New York City, three in Philadelphia; plus protests in Chicago and San Francisco including the Compton’s Cafeteria riot…

… and . . . wait for it . . . one in Los Angeles the year before.”

The LA protest from 1966 was written about in Tangents in May of 1966 by Don Slater. That protest was over the exclusion of LGBT individuals from the military. The ’66 report said, “The basis for the protest was simply that the exclusion of homosexual men and women from military service because of their homosexuality and for no other reason was unfair.” Media outlets turned out to cover the protest, of course. Yet a “historical” commission makes blind assertions without bothering to verify if any of the claims they made are accurate.

Similarly we have moves to erect a statue for Marsha P. Johnson who in modern mythology was the transgender individual who threw the first brick at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Johnson, however, never identified at transgender but as a transvestite. And, more importantly, when interviewed about Stonewall said she wasn’t there when the riot started.

At 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969 New York police “raided” the Stonewall Inn and started arresting patrons — it was illegal to serve alcohol to gay people in New York City. The crowd was mostly male with some lesbians as well. Johnson was interviewed by Eric Marcus in 1992.

Johnson wasn’t there. She said she was “having a party uptown” at the time of raid. In a recorded interview she said, “I was uptown and I didn’t get downtown until about two o’clock, because when I got downtown the place was already on fire. And it was a raid already. The riots had already started.”

Yet, New York City is now planning a statue to Johnson in honor of her role in starting the Stonewall Riots. Some also claimed Sylvia Rivera, a friend of Johnson’s was there. Johnson said Rivera was passed out in a park at the time and that she went there, a couple of hours after the riots started, to find Rivera. In a speech she said she did not start the riot.

Most eyewitness accounts indicate the Stonewall raid turned violent when police grabbed Stormé DeLarverie, a lesbian, who resisted when police tried to arrest her. She fought back as they pulled her out of the Stonewall to put her in the paddy wagon.

The riot began when she was hit with a baton and screamed to onlookers, “Why don’t you guys do something?” Onlookers began to get involved by throwing rocks and bricks at the police. DeLarverie never tried to take credit and when asked why she said, “Because it was never anybody’s business.”

Yet, New York City now plans to honor two latecomers to the riot for allegedly playing “central roles” in an event that started without either of them being there and in spite of their statements that they only arrived AFTER the riots began. Yet, Marsha Johnson gets 15,700,000 hits on Google while DeLarverie, who probably was the one who lit the fuse that night, manages only a couple dozen.

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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.

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