By Johnny Trlica
This year’s Pride month is different from previous years in many ways. There are no parades, no festivals and no beach parties. This June will be a quieter and less crowded affair.
One thing that will not be different is how thousands of LGBTQ people will recall two June dates in particular: June 10, 1922 and June 22, 1969. The birthday of Judy Garland and the day she died.
Judy Garland was beloved by gay men who idolized her as a gay icon. It has been said that Garland’s death and subsequent funeral, held in New York City on June 27, helped inspire the Stonewall riots that occurred later that night — the beginning of the modern Gay Liberation movement.
Time magazine would summarize decades later: “The uprising was inspirited by a potent cocktail of pent-up rage (raids of gay bars were brutal and routine), overwrought emotions (hours earlier, thousands had wept at the funeral of Judy Garland) and drugs. As a 17-year-old cross-dresser was being led into the paddy wagon and got a shove from a cop, she fought back. [She] hit the cop and was so stoned, she didn’t know what she was doing — or didn’t care.”
“Charles Kaiser’s 1997 book The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America notes that the Stonewall protests happened hours after Garland’s spectacular funeral, an event that saw 20,000 New Yorkers line the streets to see her white glass coffin — the biggest funeral Manhattan had witnessed since Valentino’s death in 1927,” wrote Tara Brady for The Irish Times.
“No one will ever know for sure which was the most important reason for what happened next,” wrote Kaiser. “The freshness in their minds of Judy Garland’s funeral, or the example of all the previous rebellions of the sixties — the civil rights revolution, the sexual revolution, and the psychedelic revolution, each of which had punctured gaping holes in crumbling traditions of passivity, puritanism and bigotry,” Brady continued.
Garland was known to frequent gay bars with openly gay friends Roger Edens and George Cukor, who had directed her in _A Star is Born_. She was known to accept and respect gay people, giving them a visibility, they did not often enjoy. “Friends of Dorothy” became code for being gay.
Judy Garland was considered the ultimate concert performer. She was the first performer to have a concert in the newly opened Astrodome in 1965. Her live recording of her 1961 show at Carnegie Hall remains one of the largest selling albums of all time. The double album was a gigantic hit, charting for 73 weeks on the Billboardcharts, including 13 weeks at Number 1. It has never been out of print. It won four Grammy Awards, for Album of the Year, Best Female Vocal Performance, Best Engineered Album, and Best Album Cover.
Speaking of the legendary concert called The Greatest Night in Show Business History, Rufus Wainwright said, “Whether it’s childbirth or death or marriage or war or peace, these songs become a prism for those big experiences,” he told Playbill. “It’s the attitude you need to perform it, as if you’re a soldier or an athlete, you need so much physical stamina to make it to the other end. That’s definitely what made Judy a hero for the community — you’re going to battle when that overture drums up. She embodies what I love about musical theatre and opera – especially this real danger when a singer steps on the stage and the idea that they have to basically defy gravity with their music. That what makes a diva a gay icon.” As we mark Pride this year in a slightly different way, do yourself a favor and check out Judy at Carnegie Hall and relive the greatest night in show business history.