Summer of ’69 was chosen as the theme for this year’s Pride Houston. Those three months mark many important historical moments in time, ranging from the first moon landing to the Stonewall riots and the onset of the modern-day gay rights movement. For the LGBTQ community, celebrating the uprising at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, holds significant importance. It was 50 years ago that a riot ignited a civil rights undertaking.
“When we remember a time, we remember moments. A kaleidoscope of the sights, the sounds, the emotions that remind us of the way we were.” The opening dialogue of ABC-TV’s Our World(1986-87) effectively states the outlooks and recollections we have when we reflect on a moment in time.
The summer of 1969 had a great deal of earth-shattering moments in time, many that molded us into who we are today. No three months in history have ever had the impact on American life as that fateful final summer of the decade. As a 12-year-old who turned 13 during the period, I was witness to a fascinating era.
In the summer of ’69 when turning on television, most of us were watching reruns of top rated shows like Gunsmoke, Gomer Pyle – USMC,and Mayberry RFD. That is until July 20 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
My mother and I stayed up until the wee hours of that summer day to watch the live broadcast along with a worldwide audience. It was just us two as my brother, three sisters, and father were all sound asleep in the other rooms. That moment in time became one of our most cherished moments.
The next afternoon, Neil Armstrong made the first step onto the lunar surface where he proclaimed, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
On Sunday, August 17, while watching the evening news (I was a news junkie at an early age), the networks were reporting about a music festival in New York. Woodstock, as it was called, was attended by more than 400,000 young people and featured artists like The Who, Grateful Dead, Joan Baez, and Janis Joplin.
News reports that night showed hippies and other young people smoking weed, dancing in the mud and loud, screaming, rock music playing from the stage. At the time, I thought it was all too wild and depraved for me, as did my parents. As I grew older, I wished I had been there to witness that moment in time in person.
The summer of ’69 was the perfect storm of events that created a page in history that those who lived it will never forget. Opposition to the war in Vietnam increased and Chappaquiddick ended Senator Edward Kennedy’s chances of ever becoming president.
The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” was a big hit, and followers of Charles Manson were on a killing spree that became known as Helter Skelter. While local television stations had programming that included shows like Dialing for Dollars and Kitirik, a riot broke out at a gay bar in New York.
Fifty years ago, in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided a gay bar on Christopher Street called the Stonewall Inn. It was essentially illegal to be gay then and cop raids on gay bars and harassment of its patrons were routine. But this time, for the first time, someone fought back and a riot ensued. Bricks were tossed and hand-to-hand combat followed as police called for reinforcements.
There is not a definitive consensus of what gave the bar patrons the courage to resist the police that night. Some say they were simply tired of the intimidation and harassment. Others insist it was the alcohol, while others believe grieving over the death of gay icon Judy Garland sparked the rioting.
One thing was made clear that moment in time: the LGBT community would no longer tolerate harassment and intimidation.
On June 22, 1969, I was playing baseball with my siblings and some friends. When we took a water break we heard the radio announce that Judy Garland, best known as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, had died in London. She was 47. The news was on the front pages of newspapers all over the world.
At the time, I had only known Judy as the innocent farm girl skipping down the yellow brick road with her odd assortment of friends. Later, I would learn she was the biggest concert performer and gay icon of the era, performing to audiences that contained a great percentage of gay men.
Judy’s funeral was in New York City on June 27, with as many as 20,000 fans attending. Some of those mourners filed into the Stonewall Inn later that night. The rest is history and a very significant moment in time.