How the NY Daily News covered Stonewall

The Stonewall Riots kicked off on June 28, 1969, and marked a turning-point in the gay rights movement. Today, they're remembered as a kind of shot heard round the world, but at the time, the coverage was a lot less sympathetic. Here's a mirror of "Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad," a story by Jerry Lisker that ran in the New York Daily News on July 6, 1969.

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn't bothered to shave. A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt. New York City experienced its first homosexual riot. "We may have lost the battle, sweets, but the war is far from over," lisped an unofficial lady-in-waiting from the court of the Queens.

"We've had all we can take from the Gestapo," the spokesman, or spokeswoman, continued. "We're putting our foot down once and for all." The foot wore a spiked heel. According to reports, the Stonewall Inn, a two-story structure with a sand painted brick and opaque glass facade, was a mecca for the homosexual element in the village who wanted nothing but a private little place where they could congregate, drink, dance and do whatever little girls do when they get together.

Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad (via Making Light)

(Image: New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons)


    1. I was surprised, too, or were you being sarcastic?

      The language is pejorative, but the reporting is actually quite fair. It gives accounts from people who were involved, and not people who were chosen purely to give a certain impression and to try to ridicule the Stonewall’s patrons. It reported a sympathetic eyewitness account and supports that account with other evidence, like Bruce and Nan’s story, that the patrons weren’t really up to much of anything. It didn’t overtly characterise anyone as criminals or in any way dastardly for fighting the police, and it actually gives the police’s report much less time than the Stonewall side.

      In comparison with the dregs of modern, supposedly enlightened reporting, I think they did a pretty good job.

      1. The language is pejorative, but the reporting is actually quite fair.

        Not sure how anyone with an IQ over 30 could write something like that.

        Oh, shit – I used pejorative language, but it’s okay because I was being fair about it.

        1. I never said that it was okay that Lisker used pejorative language, just that it was surprising that he could be fair in his reporting at the same time.

          Some reporters are happy to exclude elements from their account of events to give a certain impression. They will deliberately select people to interview who are more likely to support their argument, and refrain from reporting anything that would contradict what they’re trying to say. This is bad reportage.

          Lisker isn’t guilty of this. If he was a worse reporter he might’ve described the Stonewall patrons as criminals, might’ve found the only resident of the street who thought badly of them and published their views, might’ve made Bruce and Nan out to be horrible people. He did none of those things.

          I thought the phrase “the language is pejorative but the reporting is fair” was a good summary of that. Perhaps “account of events” would’ve been a better phrase than “reporting”, I don’t know. But I stand by my impression that Jerry did a decent job hearing out the Stonewall patrons and a poor job at not being offensive towards them.

          1. He referred to one person as a “specimen”. That’s not fair; that’s Goebbels-speak. He gives them column inches because he wants to drum up more scorn for them, and incidentally more violence against them.

            I’ll assume that you’re young and reading this within a context of the last 20 years. But that’s not applicable to this piece. Despite the way that we read it today, The Merchant of Venice was not written to be sympathetic to Jews.

          2. You’re right that the language is scornful – I could quibble over “specimen” but in general your reasoning is sound.

            You’re also right about youth, and you’re right about the context of the last 20 years – but I’m deliberately trying to do that. The message I’m trying to put across is “it could’ve been much worse, and today it often is”.

            He never uses the words “illegal” (except in recounting the police’s statements) or “criminal”. He never implies that anything worse than a lack of licenses happened in the club to provoke sympathy for the police – no drugs, no violence, no prostitution.

            He quotes a local saying that “there was never any trouble there” and that they “never bothered a soul” and “just wanted to be left alone” and that “it was just awful when the police came”. He mentions that the club was host to wedding receptions rather than drug- and drink-fueled excess.

            This is not the writing of someone who is trying purely to provoke scorn at the expense of all else. I agree that it’s shameful to write offensively to encourage violence, but it’s also laudible to give everyone a fair account of events.

            There are plenty of modern examples, from say the Byron Sonne debacle, of reporters trying to create a particular narrative, and relying on police press conferences and nothing else to learn the supposed facts. Lisker didn’t do that.

  1. That story was ridiculous and not to mention inaccurate. The cops weren’t busting them for no license, it was the Public Morals Squad. They were busting them because it was a gay club. Nice to see that reporting hasn’t gotten any better.

    1. More trans than gay, from what I’ve heard.

      Unfortunately, trans people of color faced the most police harassment before Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall, were driven out of the gay and lesbian rights movements after, were written out of the history, and face the most police harassment today.

      1. I guess the question would be if there was a distinction made in 1969, regarding gay as opposed to trans? I’d guess, at least amongst “mainstream” culture, there would have been little distinction made between different kinds of queerness.

        And I think being gay or lesbian does not make one immune from practicing other forms of bigotry, sadly.

      2. I think trans and gay identities were pretty thoroughly conflated at that point in the minds of many people, including queers.  

        Which doesn’t mean I disagree with you. At all.

    2. I can’t understand the logic behind this.  If most people thought these people were so immoral then why not leave them to their clubs where they could self-segregate?  It is just what the morals police wanted anyway.  By closing them down they force them to go out and, god forbid, socialize with the rest of the world.  It isn’t like the drag queens were running around and forcing helpless straight men to wear high heels.

  2. Sadly, the cops in San Francisco would do almost the same thing ten years later during the White Night riots, rampaging into bars in the Castro and beating innocent people.

      1. That raid was terrible and likely did contribute to legalization of equal marriage.  But I seriously doubt the 1990 raid led to sexual orientation being covered in the 1982 Charter, and in fact it is not.

        “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

        However, the key words in the above quote are ‘and in particular’, which were specifically fought for by Svend Robinson, and allow that groups not specifically listed are also equal etc.  That has been the root of the major advances in legal rights for GLBTQ in Canada (Yay Svend).

    1. Do you guys think the recent raid of the Eagle in Atlanta is a similar issue? It was in 2009. The APD busted into the Eagle (a center of LBGQT life in town, especially among gay men into the leather scene), had everyone get on the floor and proceeded to shout gay slurs at everyone for something like an hour. However, courts ruled against the APD in this case, ruling the raid unconstitutional and the papers in town (especially the Creative Loafing) was generally sympathetic. The APD has had a liaison to local gay community for years, so it was rather surprising this happened. Here is a general webpage about the raid, including the court case, etc:

      It really surprised everyone, as I think most of us in Atlanta consider the LBGQT community in town to be rather well intergrated into city life (the gay men’s choir performed at Shirley Franklin’s inaugural, we have a huge pride celebration that the city actively welcomes and promotes, etc).

      1.  yeah, that was a head-scratcher for me, too.  I followed the story, but the central question of “why, in 2009, in the heart of Midtown, would the police raid this particular club for no real reason oh my god are you insane?” was never really answered.  wasn’t it under the guise of not IDing properly or like a noise ordinance or something more-or-less applicable to any club?  this is the same neighborhood that hosts one of the largest Pride fests in the US.  it just seemed like I was reading re-prints of a story that happened 20 years ago.  fuckin cop logic, i tell ya.  maybe they wanted to use the “twinkie defense,” the Krispy Kreme is right across the street lol.

      2. I was also thinking of the raid of the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth, Texas, which took place on June 28th, 2009…the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall raid. Ultimately the police were found to have acted without authorization, and city officials offered apologies.

        The timing of that particular raid, and the involvement of members of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission seemed extremely suspicious at the time.

      3. I lived in Atlanta a few years back, and if it wasn’t for the LBGT community there’d still be entire neighborhoods left decaying. As a gay friend put it, “We don’t call it Homo Depot for nothin’.”

  3. The Stonewall riots were more about trans people than most pundits and commentors seem to acknowledge today. The “T”in LGBT tends to get shaken out and dropped whenever it’s convenient (which is apparently often).

    1. I was going to make a similar comment somewhere else and wondered if people would jump on me over it.  But yeah, the raid was to arrest trans people for “female impersonation,” and now it gets mentioned with the words “gay rights” and “marriage equality” without any mention of trans folks.

    1. That also accounts for why I can’t help reading it in ‘Football Coach’ Voice.

      “… a private little place where they could congregate, drink, dance and do whatever little girls do when they get together.”

  4. I must be the only one who finds the puns distasteful. Its as though the author is mocking the gay minority, looking down on them, judging them.

    We are far from equality right now, but glimpses of the past, like this one, are reminders of  how it must feel to live in those times.

    1. I also find the puns distasteful (to put it mildly), and I feel that was acknowledged, if not directly addressed, by Mr. Doctorow pointing out that the way Stonewall was written about at the time it happened was “less sympathetic”.

      And while generally things have improved, even though, as you say, we’re far from equality, it’s still possible to find LGBT people talked about this way in the media. You may not find it so much in newspapers, but certain “conservative” radio talk show hosts engage in such mockery and outright misinformation all the time.

  5. I remember listening to a live broadcast of the riots on WBAI, when I was a 15 year old catholic school girl.  I think it was probably the first time I was really made aware of homosexuality, and I’m glad that I was also made aware at the same time of the prejudices and injustices that the LGBT community faced.

  6. I was ten years old in the summer 1969, and not aware of the Stonewall riots, but reading the excerpt here really reminded me of how I was becoming aware of the blatant misogyny of the media (and the greater culture) around that time. You got the idea that the world not only looked down on women, but felt a little sorry for us being born weak and feminine. Therefore, any male who acted female, identified as female, and/or wanted to be female was obviously crazy and worthy of scorn.

    The flashback is not a pleasant one.

  7. There is a lot of power in language. By choosing words, adopting a mocking tone, the content of the piece doesn’t matter so much.

    An analog today would be about Cannabis law reform/repeal: here is a policy that is locking millions in cages, destroying lives and economic prospects particularly of young black men, sparking war in mexico and other countries, setting back industry, setting back medicine, many other bad effects; yet whenever talking heads mention it, it is always a lot of joking about ‘cheech and chong’ type stuff.

    If you want to deny basic human rights to any group, it’s useful to choose language to make fun of them and make them an object of ridicule so people won’t consider them as human beings.

      1. rednecks and teabaggers.

        If you’re joking, you forgot your sarcasm tag.  If not, you forgot your hypocrisy tag.

  8. So basically, I see everyone missed that the title written for the article in 1969 was  “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad”.   According to the link below this, leading straight to the New York Public Library/Commons where the above is copied from.  I understand breaking down the article and saying “that guy wasn’t so bad”.  But the title has a counter argument

  9. It reads like a John Waters script. As bad as it was, I can’t imagine that there weren’t some in the gay community that probably got a kick out of this bit of unintentionally campy writing. 

  10. The reporter is trying to assert his own manliness by deprecating the people he was writing about and also hoping to pre-empt any questions of what he, ostensibly a sports reporter, was doing in a gay bar district when this event unfolded.

    When i read his obit and saw the cause of death listed as “brain cancer” in 1993 I couldn’t help but think of how common it was then for ashamed families of AIDS victims to reveal only some portion of the person’s illness (cancer, pneumonia) and not the primary cause.

  11. I guess I’m more surprised by the misogyny in the writing than the trans/homophobia.   I mean yes, it’s transphobic, but all of that hatred is couched in the language of hating women, blatantly.  Which is shocking to see today.

    Still, I’d need to know more of the author’s work (and the work of his competitors) to get a better context for his evident transphobia.  I’m thinking of a Chicago columnist whose column painted bicyclists with the broadest, least savory stereotypes – while essentially arguing *in favor* of  bike-friendlier transportation infrastructure.  I learned later that being a hard-bitten crank about this or that was essentially his main pose and calling card.  Bicyclists read it and responded en masse to the ugly stereotyping, but his regular readers would have known how to separate the ‘red meat’ in the column from its pro-bike-safety main point.

    Kind of like someone today who might say something like “Fags and dykes, those people should be able to get married so they can be just as miserable as the rest of us.”  I have a lot of old uncles who talk and pose this way, and they are (in their minds) about as pro-equality as they can be.  You’re supposed to have a thick skin about all of their racial/sexual jokes and slurs, and understand that they will give the biggest cash gifts at your interracial, homosexual wedding, with tears in their eyes.

  12. Interestingly, in the histories one reads of Stonewall, the ones who fought the hardest were the drag queens, I suppose because they had the least to lose.  They were segregated not only from the mainstream of society, but also from the gays who could “pass” for straight.  This bar and their effeminate identities were about all most of them had, and that is sad.  For many years, I thought them an embarrassment to the gay community, a sad stereotype that needed to be retired if we wanted progress. 

    But, the photo-reporting on this story had an unintentional effect.  While newspapers sensationally plastered their pages whit the most outrageous drag queens they could photograph during the riots, in the backgrounds of those photos were normal looking young men, dressed as most young men of that time dressed.  I, a teenager in a small town in the Midwest (Normal, IL – and I am not making that up) saw them and realized that I was not alone and that I did not have to grow-up to be a sissy, since that was the only stereotype of gay sexuality portrayed on television: Milton Berle in drag and lisping. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that it wasn’t that.  And I am sure I wasn’t the only young man dealing with sexual identity at the time to look past the flamboyants in the center of the photographs at the people behind them.

    My credo became: I’m a guy.  I like being a guy. I just happen to like guys.”  Because of those images, I lived my life as I wanted: a 20 year career in the Navy SeaBees (albeit, closeted) and I am now a Teamster, planning my retirement from a company that accepts me and my husband in a state where we are married.  Now I get to drag my husband to the VFW and defy them to say anything – at least, I did until I realized a lot of old guys were buying him drinks.

    I have never worn a dress or make-up.  I don’t understand drag ( I just learned the word “transphobia”!) , and I am definitely missing that “savoir-faire” gay gene that accounts for things like decorating (although I do know more show-tunes than a Teamster should), but I am grateful to those girlie-men who spent three days leading the NYPD on a merry chase around those three blocks of Greenwich Village in boas and size-11 Spring-o-lators.  I recognize what they did and acknowledge the impact they had on the success of gay rights. They had no choice but to be on the front lines of the war because they stuck-out.  Camouflage doesn’t come in chiffon.

    (I came out to a friend in my high school in Chicagoland when I was 17, but I never admitted to being a Packers fan – the difference between being a gay kid in Chicago and a Packers fan was that the gay kids only got their asses kicked about once a week. I was more afraid my friends would find me in green-and-gold than pink. Ironically, my husband is one of “da Bears.”)

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