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Stonewall

Richard Burnett
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Richard burnett
Roland
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The sordid real story behind the Stonewall Riots as Hollywood director Roland Emmerich films his Stonewall movie in Montreal

If everybody who says they were at the Stonewall Riots of June 1969 were actually there, there would have been tens of thousands of LGBT protestors rioting in the streets.
 
The other lie about Stonewall is that New York City police raided the joint just to harass the gay establishment. 
 
Truth is, the cops wanted to arrest Stonewall Inn manager Ed Murphy who was running a mafia blackmail operation out of the Stonewall.
 
But historians have mixed fact and myth since that historic clash between LGBT outsiders and the police during the early morning hours of June 28, 1969.
 
Just before I visited the Stonewall Inn for the first time – on the 40th anniversary of the riots in June 2009 – I spoke with historian David Carter whose 2004 book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution is the definitive account of the six-day riots and the basis for the superb 2010 PBS doc Stonewall Uprising.
 
Carter told me that prior to the raid Interpol uncovered the theft of negotiated bonds which were turning up on the streets of Europe. The bonds were being stolen by gay Wall Street employees who were victims of a blackmail operation run by Stonewall Inn manager Ed Murphy.
 
Murphy, in spite of having been previously arrested for running an extensive national blackmail ring based on homosexual prostitution, had never been to jail because he had incriminating photographs of one of the prostitution ring's most prominent customers, then-FBI head honcho J. Edgar Hoover.
 
“Hoover was a sonuvabitch,” Carter says.
 
But once the NYPD learned the theft of bonds was tied to blackmail at the Stonewall Inn, the order went out to shut down the club. Then came the infamous riots and a legend was born. 
 
That is where Hollywood blockbuster movie director Roland Emmerich comes in: His action-adventure movies have grossed more than $3 billion at the box office. But this summer in Montreal the director of Independence Day, Godzilla and 2012 is shooting Stonewall, a “small” film budgeted at just $14 million that Emmerich says is close to his heart.
 
Stonewall was scripted by out writer Jon Robin Baitz and tells the story of a homeless gay teen (portrayed by War Horse star Jeremy Irvine) who gets caught up in the riots.
 
“There were lots of homeless runaway people living in [Greenwich] Village at the time, and I felt drawn to that,” Emmerich told me recently. “There are very little photos of the riot, but when you look at these photos, they are all of young people, and most of them we don’t know who they are. I am grateful for what these kids did at Stonewall. They were heroes.”
 
Emmerich is nervous about making this film. “I always am when I make a new movie, but this film scares the living shit out of me,” he says. “No matter history, you can talk to four different people who were at Stonewall and you will get four different stories. I feel such a big sense of responsibility because Stonewall is such an important historic event in gay history.”
 
As NYC drag legend RuPaul once told me, “Stonewall is a subject very dear to me because it was those [drag] queens who had the guts to throw that first brick [at the police]. It's my goal to never let those brave drag queens be forgotten. That type of tenacity is what led this movement from the very beginning.” 
 
Carter says, “Certainly the drag queens were among the first and most fierce resisters. But the people who resisted most were gay street youth, non-gender-conforming butch lesbians and effeminate young men.” 
 
Nor does the real reason for the police raid diminish the symbolic importance of Stonewall. 
 
“It's clear the people who resisted thought this was just another regular police raid,” Carter says. “Even though the police were just trying to shut down a mafia operation, they were brutal [to the bar patrons].” 
 
So the following year, in June 1970, the first-ever Gay Pride parade was held in NYC to commemorate the riots. Today, there are hundreds of Gay Pride parades worldwide, most of them in June in honour of Stonewall. 
 
“Stonewall is the single most important symbolic moment in gay history, perhaps even worldwide,” Carter says. “It caused a wave of gay civil rights activism to go global. It all had to happen, of course, otherwise Stonewall today would merely be a footnote.” 
 

Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at http://blogs.montrealgazette.com/category/montreal/pop-tart/. Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at bugsburnett.blogspot.com.