By Bradley Donalson
There has been a glut of books that people have claimed to be the “definitive” history of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that sparked the nationwide LGBT activism movement. While Ann Bausum doesn’t make that claim, that’s not to say her writing isn’t well researched and assembled. It is. I get the sense that she doesn’t make that claim because of her humility and respect for the subject, both of which infuse her writing. Bausum tries to present the reader with the facts in a way that is both interesting and informative, without being overbearing or biased.
Bausum sets the stage by surveying pre-Stonewall activism and the political and social climate of oppression and extortion that many homosexuals faced. In the 1960s, being gay wasn’t only a crime, but thought to be a mental illness. The closet was necessary in order to keep your job and your home. Short portraits of activists and the youth of New York’s Greenwich Village reveal how people of the time were trying to change this.
She then gives a recounting of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn that sparked the June 28 riot, as well as the aftermath that unfolded during the next few days. She gives as many details of the siege as possible (from both inside and outside the iconic bar), gleaned from press accounts as well as from riot witnesses and participants. Injecting personal accounts and a human element, Bausum’s account of this pivotal moment in LGBT history is much more than a stale history lesson.
Bausum then goes on to explore the repercussions of Stonewall, from the Pride parade tradition that continues to commemorate the riot, to the AIDS crisis, the Supreme Court decisions of Lawrence v. Texas and United States v. Windsor, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and finally to the rise of the fight for marriage equality.
While not an all-encompassing rendition of the myriad aspects of Stonewall, Bausum’s new book presents a detailed, factual account that doesn’t seem like a lecture. Peppered with photos, snapshots, and quotes that enhance her narrative, Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights is an approachable and meaningful examination of a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBT equality. Designed for readers of all ages, this book should be required reading for young queer people who need to understand the fight that came before them so they can continue the fight that lies ahead.
Bradley Donalson is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.