It is where the modern gay rights movement was born. Tired of years of police harassment, the denizens of Manhattan’s run-down Stonewall Inn finally stood up for their rights and rioted.
The events of those sultry June nights in 1969 ignited a power-keg, and the explosion was heard around the world.
Within 12 months there were gay rights movements organising and protesting across the Western world.
The venue where it all began has seen many changes. Not least in its surroundings. For what was once a refuge for drag queens, drug dealers and other outscasts has become a gentrified New York neighbourhood.
Greenwich Village has undergone a slow but permanent transformation from dive to desirable, and it seems there is no place for the old Stonewall Inn.
The aspirations of New York’s gay population have changed too. “Stonewall over the last few years has been a blight on the community and an embarrassment,” community activist Rick Panson told The New York Observer.
“The gay community is not looking for a strip-club-mentality lifestyle.”
But the story is more complex than that. Since it was re-opened as a bar in 1989, it seems that Stonewall has attracted a different sort of clientele, and as always with America, it is race much more than class that is the great divider.
The white middle-class gays of Greenwich Village seem to object to working-class black gays from Harlem taking over the Stonewall they no longer have a use for.
The partons of Stonewall have compelling reasons for wanting to keep Stonewall alive, even if the neighbours don’t.
“I’m really comfortable here,” Myke Melendez, a 22-year-old from Harlem, told The Observer.
“If I’m on the street holding a guy’s hand, it’s like whatever. Or if I’m trying to pick a guy up, it’s like whatever. I like it here.”
The lease for the bar has changed hands numerous times, and documents show that the present management have poured money into a black hole.
The rent, $20,000 a month, makes it unlikely the next tenants will want to run another drinking venue.
The real story is the change in New York. The gay population seem to have forgotten their history, or not to care.
Despite its iconic status across the globe, there is no movement to preserve the property as a shrine to gay rights.
At the start of next month, the lease will be offered to new tenants for $100,000 up-front and $22,500 a month rent.
The well-loved gay writer Edmund White emailed these thoughts to The New York Observer:
“Everything (even the tenements) have been tarted up and the West Village is the most expensive and desirable real estate in Manhattan,”
“Before gay liberation, blacks and Hispanics were accepted. Now white middle-class gays have become as snobbish as their straight counterparts – I guess that’s the price of assimilation, but unfortunately it’s a price that others must pay.”
It seems the world that created the Stonewall riots has gone forever, and with it the folk-memory of drag queens standing up to the NYPD and triggering the fight for gay rights across the world.
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