Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Summer 2015 (July 21, 2015 at 6:00 am)

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights


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July 13, 2015 at 4:21 pm
By Susan Kasten

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One steamy summer night in 1969, a police raid on a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn caused a riot that galvanized a burgeoning gay rights movement. At a time when 1960s anti-war protests and civil rights demonstrations were typically curtailed by law enforcement, the patrons of the Stonewall in New York’s Greenwich Village fought back and even forced police into retreat at one point.

Bausum’s fast-paced, thoroughly researched account vividly details the Stonewall riots and follows the struggle for gay rights through the AIDS crisis and into the present.

She unflinchingly offers context to the riots, which were happening when it was a criminal offense for citizens of most states to be gay, and where bars like the Stonewall Inn—though decrepit and run by organized crime figures—were among the few places members of the LGBT community could openly socialize.

Bausum writes about the history of social justice for readers of all ages. She dedicates Stonewall, her 12th book, to close friend and fellow Beloiter Mike Bess’79 and writes it in memory of another: Michael Riesenberg’81, a Beloiter who found a home within the gay community of the West Village, but died of AIDs at the age of 34.


EXCERPT
[from the author’s note]

By Ann Bausum’79
Viking, 2015

… I was only eleven years old in 1969 when the Stonewall riots occurred. Too young to hear about Stonewall, too young to even know much about sexuality or same-sex attractions. Ten years later, I found myself living in the city where the riots had happened. When I visited Greenwich Village and walked down Christopher Street, past the former Stonewall Inn, I witnessed the vibrant gay life that thrived along this corridor during those heady days post-Stonewall and pre-AIDS. Public displays of affection. Shop windows stocked with adult entertainment merchandise for same-sex partners. Cross-dressing. And leather. Lots of leather.

Then, less than a decade later, it was as if the hand of death had draped the Village with invisible black shrouds. AIDS changed everything. A palpable sense of grief and fear and anger hung over Christopher Street. A sense of disorder and stolen victory. And terrible, terrible loss. So many people suffering. So many people gone.

Someone I knew from college was among the young people who had found love and acceptance on Christopher Street. Michael Riesenberg also found death there. Too young to have witnessed Stonewall, Mike did not live to celebrate the culminating torrent of gay rights victories that would follow decades later. Robbed of his health, robbed of his potential, robbed of his longevity, Mike died on June 16, 1993, at the age of thirty-four. I write this book in his memory and as a tribute to all the people who have died because of AIDS.

Half a lifetime since the events of 1969, I write to celebrate the survivors, too. Those who remember Stonewall and those who’ve barely heard of it. The people who align with every shade of the LGBT gay pride rainbow and the people who are their friends and allies.

I write for the individuals who persevered in the struggle and those who’ve benefited from it. Those I’ve never known and those who’ve become some of my closest friends, including Mike Bess, to whom this book is dedicated. Mike has encouraged me in all my writing, but he took a personal interest in this story. Born in the early 1950s, he came of age with a generation whose lives could have turned out differently. Closeted. Constrained. Conflicted. Making do with halting steps toward half-measures of equality. But history turned out differently.

Because then came Stonewall.


Copyright © 2015 by Ann Bausum. Reprinted courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, a Penguin Random House Company.


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