On the 50-year-anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, two Phoenix residents share their personal experiences
Today marks 50 years since a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in NYC inspired a cultural revolution. After that June 28th act of aggression, members and supporters of the LGBTQ community launched a series of spontaneous, intense, and profound demonstrations to fight for gay rights.
Bob Lewis and Steve Schemmel — members of the Phoenix community — were each present on that fateful night and have graciously shared some thoughts and recollections.
Bob Lewis: Fifty years ago at this time of year, an event occurred that precipitated a change in the lives of the LGBT community. This uprising has made the world give notice of the existence of a population that needed acceptance and equality of life. Having participated in this event brings back memories of intense fear for my life. That night was not a celebration. It was chaos.
I recommend watching the documentary "Stonewall Uprising" on PBS' long-running series American Experience.
Steve Schemmel: Hot summer night, end of June 1969. I had just finished a long meeting as executive director of the Airline Theatre Wing, a New York City off-Broadway group I managed and had stopped for “coffee” with a couple of members after. Exhausted, hot, and hungry, I decided to stop by a great little 24-hour coffee shop down in the Village.
It was late night-early morning, so I took the subway down to the Christopher Street station. Walking up the stairs to Sheridan Square, I began to hear crowd noises. I got up to street level and – OMG! There was a mob of people outside the Stonewall Inn, screaming at the army of police and fighting them. “What’s going on?” I asked a young man who was bleeding. “The cops are raiding the bar — again,” he said, “and we’re fed up with it.” With that, he ran back inside — to what was madness!
Years ago, a friend and I were walking from our apartment on the Upper West Side to a restaurant. Suddenly, the doors opened on a car parked at the curb, and four cops in plain clothes surrounded us. They herded us into the back seat and drove to a police station. Once there, we were further herded into a large room that was already crowded with other men who had been 'abducted' in the same manner.
No one in authority spoke to us for the next nine hours that we were held there. No one in the room knew what was going on. After arguing with the cop in charge for hours, I was finally able to make a phone call. I called a friend who I knew had some pull with the police department. An hour later, the same cop called my name and my friend’s name. All he said was “Get outta here!" I found out a week later that another friend, a demi-soloist with the New York City Ballet, was walking home from a performance and was pulled in and held for nine days — missing eight performances.
So these incidents and more were running through my mind as I stood there outside Stonewall. Fed up? Angry? Oh baby, that and more! So I waded in, shouting and swinging. I got in some good licks before some cop hit me with his nightstick right on my head. I carried the scar on the left side of my forehead until just recently, now that my (ahem) wrinkles have blended it in.
I don’t think anyone at Stonewall that fateful night expected what came after “The Stonewall Uprising.” We were all just fed up with what had been happening over the past years. Looking back, am I glad to have been there? Absolutely. Do I think I deserve praise? Absolutely not. I’m very happy that we’ve come as far as we have, but realize there’s much more work to be done.