Anniversary of Stonewall

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(Host) According to commentator John Scagliotti, this year marks the 35th anniversary of an event that became the catalyst in changing the way we think about diversity.

(Scagliotti) This Saturday’s Vermont gay pride march in Burlington will be a festive occasion, as are most of the hundreds of gay pride events that now take place through out the world.

Many of the Vermonters taking part in the events this weekend might not realize that this celebration, with its rainbow flags, marching bands and dancing floats, actually honors a riot that took place in New York City’s Greenwich Village thirty-five years ago.

Back in 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gritty Mafia-owned gay bar. But instead of letting themselves be herded off passively to the paddy wagons as hundreds of gays had done before them, this time the drag queens, street people and others fought back. The ensuing riot sent the cops running for cover. The Stonewall patrons never ended up in those paddy wagons and what is referred to as the modern gay movement was born.

I was a student at the time at the University of New Hampshire as the news began to spread. I came out of the closet and joined this new movement. At the time I hadn’t realized that I was becoming part of an important political struggle that would profoundly change the world.

A few years after the Stonewall riots, the Boston vice squad arrested me for being gay. After being handcuffed, kicked and insulted, I would not acquiesce. Instead of paying the small fine, I demanded a jury trial, and with the help of the ACLU, fought the case all the way to the State Supreme Court – and won. Scagliotti v. the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would mean the end of the sordid undercover practices of the vice squad.

It was really a small step on my part but what was amazing about those times were the thousands of people like me standing up in every major institution in America. The churches, the military, universities, the media, the government itself, would all have to change and change they did.

Here in Vermont, gays and lesbians were legally allowed to keep jobs, to adopt children, and even get a civil union if they chose. Big changes from the times just thirty-five years ago when bashing a homosexual would be considered sport.

Perhaps my late partner, journalist Andrew Kopkind, put it best on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Stonewall writing in the Nation Magazine, “Somewhere in the existential depths of that brawl of screaming transvestites were all the freedom rides, the anti-war marches, the endless meetings and broken hearts. Not only that, but the years of gay men and lesbians lying about their identity to their families, their bosses, the military; suffering silently when they were found out; hiding and seeking and winking at each other, or drinking and dying by themselves. It’s absolutely astonishing to think that on one early summer’s night in New York that world ended, and a new one began.”

This is John Scagliotti from Guilford.

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John Scagliotti is the creator of the public television series “In the Life” and the Emmy Award-winning producer of the documentary “Before Stonewall.”

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