Friday, July 10, 2009

Stonewall means fight!

For New Yorkers and most Americans of a certain age who aren't living in a cave, the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village represents the struggle of gay Americans for basic human rights other Americans have long taken for granted. It all began 40 years ago in June. Gay Americans, even in a sophisticated and cosmopolitan place like New York City, lived closeted lives of constant fear. They got together in gay bars that were connected with organized crime and were constantly raided by police, who would rough up and arrest patrons. The Stonewall was one such bar, and was routinely raided one evening in late June 1969, only this time it would not be routine. The patrons decided they had had enough. They resisted, sparking three nights of confrontations between young gay men and the police. I'm deliberately not calling them riots, because they were very mild compared to the racial rioting that was tearing American cities apart in the late '60s. One thing led to another, and here we are today.

I recently ran by the Stonewall Inn. For me it represents a piece of my city's history and a piece of Americana. You don't have to be gay to appreciate the universal struggle for human rights. It resonates with me as an American and more so as a Jew because of our history of being denied the most basic human rights in unhappy lands of persecution. When one man's rights are taken away, all men are diminished. I'm not talking about changing the definition of marriage now - though who would have dreamed 40 years ago that we as a country would be debating that today? I'm talking about the right to live anywhere one can afford, to hold a job whose duties one can perform, to be served in a place of public accommodation, and the like. I'm talking about the right not to have to live a lie - whether that means going to the company picnic with a kippa on one's head or with one's gay partner (or both - click here!). Above all, I am talking about the right to walk the streets in safety, without fear of being set upon and beaten because some thugs perceive you, rightly or wrongly, as gay, black, Jewish or whatever. Both gays and Orthodox Jews suffered from a stereotype as sissies (or, to quote R. Meir Kahane hy"d, patsies) who can be physically attacked and beaten with impunity. Many of my friends were beaten on the street growing up identifiably Jewish in the '60s, though praise God that changed in the aftermath of the Six Day War. And it did not change because of the goodness of thugs' hearts. It changed because the Israeli army and air force showed the world another image of the Jew, that of a strong Jew able and willing to stand up for himself. And that is what Stonewall did for gays. One Matthew Shepard is one too many. And the solution for gays is the same as it was for us Jews - an ability and willingness to teach hoodlums a lesson with Jewish or gay fists.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history lesson. Excellent post. (My only quibble is your comment on gay marriage. I will leave a debate on that to another day.)

Thu Jul 16, 09:09:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were Jewish boys beaten up in the Bronx in the 1940's, 50's, and 60's?

Mon Jul 20, 01:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Zev Stern said...

I'm sure they were. Why would the Bronx be different from Brooklyn?

Tue Jul 21, 12:23:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a friend who was born in the bronx in the 1940's and left there in the mid-1960's. I've always wondered if he experienced violence or hostility for being a Jew living in the Bronx.

Thu Jul 30, 01:21:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What say you?

Thu Aug 06, 01:50:00 PM EDT  
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