Personal View of History: Stonewall did that for me

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Personal View of History: Stonewall did that for me

Cultural Note: See for a history of the Stonewall riots. There is a movie based on this as well by the same name: “Stonewall.” In 1969, gays did not have freedom or police protection in the U.S. The Stonewall riots helped to change that. The gay men at the bar stood up to the police.

Rockettes (example of a chorus line)

Chorus Line (Broadway)

Interview with a Female Impersonator



The vice squad routinely raided and emptied gay bars

Stood their ground



A deafening silence occurred

And you could hear a pin drop, literally

Drag queens

A chorus line


Stood there with chills

We know you to go to places like this

That means hey knew all along.

It was like wearing a sign on my back

But I felt the world is now more comfortable with me


  1. What happened when the police arrived? (What happened to the lights and the music?)
  2. Who in particular stood up to the police? Draw this scene!!

  3. What did the storyteller’s boyfriend want to do?

  4. What does it mean: “You could hear a pin drop, literally.”

  5. What does it mean: “It was like I was wearing a sign on my back.” What did everyone in his family know about him? Make a sentence with that idiom.

Part II Opinion:

Confrontations. What personal confrontation has changed your life? Please explain. What historical confrontation most inspires you? Please explain.

It is a Friday morning, time once again for StoryCorps, the project that is recording people talking about their lives.

Today, one man remembers the summer night that changed his life. Michael Levine was at a popular gay bar in New York City in 1969 when it was surrounded by police. At the time, the vice squad routinely raided and emptied gay bars. Patrons usually complied with the police, frightened at being identified publicly, but this particular Friday night was different.

Patrons at the Stonewall Inn stood their ground. They clashed during what became known as the Stonewall riots. Michael Levine reflected with his friend Matt Merlin on what happened that night.

Mr. MICHAEL LEVINE: It was a Friday night. I had a date. And I was at the bar getting drinks for both of us. We had just finished dancing. The music was blaring. It was a combination of beer and cigarettes and cologne. Suddenly, as I'm handing money to the bartender, a deafening silence occurred. The lights went up, the music went off, and you could hear a pin drop, literally.

My boyfriend rushed in from the dance floor. He walked over and said, Put the drinks down, let's leave. We go out into Christopher Street, and there are what looked like 100 police cars all facing the entrance and crowds of people looking at us.

And then the police start to say, Okay, everyone, leave. And the drag queens, they're the ones who said to the police, we're not leaving. And they formed a chorus line outside in front of the bar. And they stood there dancing in the street. They were all Puerto Rican drag queens and Irish cops. It was a funny, funny confrontation.

When we came back on Saturday night, we stood there on the street and held hands and kissed - something we would never have done three days earlier. I stood there with chills. I got a chill seeing guys on the street holding hands and kissing.

And in the week that followed, I got phone calls from relatives - cousins, my brother, my aunt. We're just calling to find out if you're okay. We know you go to places like this. We want to make sure you're all right.

That means they knew all along. It was like I was wearing a sign on my back. They knew. We never discussed it. I never once had to say to anyone in my family: I'm gay.

Mr. MATT MERLIN: How did you feel about yourself between the beginning of Stonewall and after Stonewall? Did you feel that you were a different person?

Mr. LEVINE: No, I didn't feel that I was a different person. I was the same me. I was a homosexual person, coming from an old-fashioned Jewish neighborhood, living in Greenwich Village on my own. I felt the same. I felt comfortable. But I felt the world now is more comfortable with me. And Stonewall did that for me.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Michael Levine with Matt Merlin at StoryCorps in New York City. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.

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