The Diva Who Sparked a RevolutionWhether it's Cher or Barbra, Bette or Madonna, every gay man has his favorite diva. Why? What is it about these women that touches gay men on some deeply personal level? My own hypothesis is that they represent the disenfranchised. First, they are women. Second, they don't conform to the ideals of conventional beauty. They often come from humble beginnings or highly dysfunctional families. They are criticized for how they dress, who they marry (or how often), how outlandish they act, how much they drink, what they look like or how fat they are. Yet in the face of society's harsh stares, these women manage rise from all the ugly unpleasantness of their lives and the world and somehow emerge nothing less than fabulous! We gay men can relate. We know it feels to be put down for how we act or what we wear, or who we love. Many of us want so desperately to shake the dust of the redneck towns we grew up in where we were never understood or appreciated and come out...well...fabulous!
Perhaps the mother of all gay men's divas is my personal favorite, Judy Garland. (Pictured above with her gay fans reaching out to her across the footlights of Carnegie Hall.) But Judy, who always sang of rainbows, was much more than a gay icon. It was her untimely death in 1969 that sparked the outrage at the Stonewall Inn 38 years ago today and changed history.
On June 22, 1969, Judy Garland was found dead in a hotel in London. Her body was sent home to New York where a funeral was planned at the Frank Campbell Funeral Home for June 27. Thousands of fans turned out lining the street for her funeral procession and memorials for her were planned at gay bars around the city. These bars had been the target of increasingly aggressive police raids that year. The establishments were being shut down and their owners and patrons arrested and humiliated. The Stonewall was one of the bars with a planned memorial for Judy. According to some witnesses, in the wee hours of June 28 while "Over the Rainbow" was playing on the juke box, plainclothes officers raided the Stonewall. At first it appeared to be a typical raid, some patrons were allowed to leave and the owners were arrested. But things turned ugly when a police wagon showed up and officers forced some drag queens and lesbians to get in. The crowd on the street was outraged and began attacking the police who locked themselves in the bar. The crowd then grew even more violent hurling bottles and bricks through the windows. More police arrived and the disturbance grew into a full scale riot.
The event at the Stonewall that night sparked three days of similar disturbances and protests on Christopher Street and by the end of July, 1969 the Gay Liberation Front was founded starting the modern gay rights movement.
The day of Judy's funeral was just not the day to go picking on the fags.