Our Crack Tongue & Groove
Stonewall Riots & Judy Garland
This June marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village, which were the catalyst for the formation of the Gay Liberation Front. But what exactly was Judy Garland’s role in it all?
‘Do you think homosexuals are revolting? You bet your sweet ass we are!’ That was the message printed on an early flyer of a group that would go on to become the Gay Liberation Front. The GLF grew out of the riots that took place in the early hours of 28 June, 1969, which kicked off when police officers burst into the Stonewall Inn (“Police! We’re taking the place”) and the gay customers decided that they had had enough. The fightback had begun.
Judy Garland, meanwhile, was busy still being dead. The film star, anointed as the “Elvis of homosexuals” by The Advocate magazine, the longest running LGBT+ publication in the US, died on 22 June 1969. Her funeral was held on 27 June and the story goes that several people at the Stonewall Inn that evening were huge Garland fans. According to bar patron Sylvia Rivera, they had come from the Garland funeral earlier that day to drink and mourn. She claimed there was a feeling in the air that something would happen that night: “I guess Judy Garland’s death helped us really hit the fan.”
Earlier this year RuPaul claimed that those present at Stonewall, “used their grief over Judy’s death to rise up and fight back”.
The whole notion, however, is poppycock according to the American artist, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. He was also at Stonewall and said, “There are people who connect Garland’s funeral to the narrative of Stonewall, and you’re not going to tell them otherwise, so let them have it.”
Another disputing the Garland connection is author David Carter who, in his book ‘Stonewall’, writes, “No eyewitness account of the riots written at the time mentions Garland”. Both he and Lanigan-Schmidt point out that the youths most responsible for the riots were more likely to be listening to rock and R&B than show tunes.
In 2016 President Obama announced the establishment of the Stonewall National Monument, a 7.7 acre site directly across the street from the Stonewall Inn. It is the first US National Monument dedicated to LGBT+ rights and testament to a group of people who weren’t prepared to be treated as second-class citizens any longer. And whether the “Elvis of homosexuals” had anything to do with the riots is a moot point. They were going to happen sooner rather than later, anyway. Because when oppressed people rise up against their oppressors, with a righteous fury in their sails, they can, and will, eventually win. You can bet your sweet ass on it.