Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Landmark Documentary "Before Stonewall" Now On DVD

Most of today's LGBT Americans think of the gay rights movement as beginning with the riots that took place 40 years ago at the Stonewall Inn in New York City's Greenwich Village. Drag queens, hustlers and other bar patrons had had enough and fought back against police during one of the routine raids on Gotham's gay gathering places. More riots broke out over the course of two weeks at other queer bars in The Village as New York's Finest moved to "clean up" the city.

While Stonewall was the defining moment in our fight for equality, what is less well known is that before June 27, 1969 there was a thriving, if hidden, gay subculture in America.

In the 1950's gay and lesbian civil rights organizations, the Mettachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis were meeting in private homes and picketing the White House and State Department over the denial of security clearances for homosexual government employees.

Gays and Lesbians partied on the down-low at their own bars, vacationed at their own unofficial gay hot spots and led secret lives that could have cost them their jobs, homes and families. The 1984 film, "Before Stonewall", now available on DVD, documents the earliest days of our history in America.

John Corry of The New York Times writes about the film in Wednesday's edition:

In sometimes moving interviews, homosexuals talk about what they found. ''I was in a room with 12 other lesbians for the first time in my life,'' a woman [the late activist Barbara Gittings] says, joyously recalling a meeting of the Daughters of Bilitis, ''and, oh, what a thrill that was!'' On screen, her happiness, even if it is in retrospect, is contagious.

''Before Stonewall'' touches an earlier era, too. ''I do more bothering now with straight people than I ever did in my life,'' an elderly woman says. She talks of Harlem nightclubs in the 1920's. An elderly man, spare and elegant, remembers the period differently. It was the ''world of the demimondaine - the people who would be out at night with no good place to go.'' The euphemism for homosexuality then, he says, was ''temperamental.''

"Before Stonewall" is one of those you'll want to buy, not rent. The DVD hits stores this week.

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