While we grapple with such problems as whether or not the recently out but obviously gay Sean Hayes is believable as a heterosexual in love with Kristin Chenoweth in the delightful Broadway revival of Promises Promises, it is good to remember this privileged debate is hard won. Going back to a time when same-sex coupling was a crime, marriage unthinkable, a new documentary, Stonewall Uprising, directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, closely following David Carter's book, Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, has now opened at Film Forum and tells the amazing story of this evolution in human rights.
Tracing the untoward history of gay liberation in America, from what it was like in the 60s, a fairly recent past (when homosexuality was demonized and thought to be a disease that might be cured with electric shock reconditioning) through a pivotal event on June 28, 1969, when police attempted to shut down the Stonewall Inn, an important gay watering hole on Christopher Street, near the Village Voice.
This would have been business as usual as gays were perceived as limp-wrist sissies, except for the ensuing eruption of solidarity -- the enough is enough moment -- when gay men and women came together and resisted in days of riots and a newly-formed consciousness. This film limns this stage in American democracy, featuring poignant archival footage and speakers, many of whom are brought to tears as they remember -- and are also surprisingly funny.
Those who took part and talked to the filmmakers are all grayed now, recounting a time when they were in their twenties, or younger. Yvonne Ritter, for example, turned 18 that night and recalled the special dress she wore, taken from his mother. Many of the participants were on hand on Wednesday for the opening night, including Jerry Hoose, celebrating his birthday at the premiere of the film. The biggest laugh: The rule for arresting a cross-dresser was you had to be wearing three gender appropriate items, socks excluded. After underwear, the next piece of clothing was going to ruin the outfit.
Seymour Pine, the police officer in charge of the raid sums it up: They were breaking the law, but what kind of law was that?
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