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Stonewall eyewitness Karla Jay clarifies misconceptions

Gender studies pioneer says it was time ‘for society to decriminalize our lives’

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Karla Jay, gay news, Washington Blade
Retired college professor and author Karla Jay in 1971 and today. (Photos courtesy Jay)

Stonewall wasn’t bloody enough to be considered a true riot. That’s the contention of one activist who went the second night to see the brouhaha she’d heard about first hand. 

“I’d prefer to call it a rebellion or an uprising,” says scholar/author Karla Jay. “A riot is more bloody with fighting in the street.” 

Jay was born Karla Jaye Berlin in Brooklyn to her parents Rhoda and Abraham Berlin in 1947. She was raised in a non-observant, largely secular Jewish home and graduated from Barnard College in 1968 after participating in the student demonstrations at Columbia University. 

She’s a distinguished professor emerita at Pace University in New York where she taught English and directed the women’s and gender studies program from 1974-2009. She’s considered a pioneer in the field of lesbian and gay studies and is author of books such as “Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation,” “Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation” and won Best Lesbian Studies Book in 1996 for “Dyke Life: From Growing Up to Growing Old — A Celebration of the Lesbian Experience.” When asked to confirm her sexual orientation, Jay says she eschews labels. 

Jay became involved in her activism by participating in various movements such as the peace movement, the women’s movement and the movement against the war in Vietnam. Although her views aligned with the left, she ran into issues.

“The problem with the groups on the left were they were pretty homophobic and the people who were involved, like myself … had to basically compartmentalize our lives” Jay says. 

Their lack of inclusion pushed Jay into the forefront of fighting for the rights of LGBT people, which started with the Gay Liberation Front and the Stonewall riots. 

Contrary to popular belief, films documenting what took place at Stonewall with real footage are inaccurate according to Jay. 

“There is no footage of the Stonewall activity. So if you’ve seen any footage of the riots, that’s fake news,” she says. 

What is known about the events is that on June 28, 1969 the New York City police department went into the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village for what they expected to be a routine bar raid. Things went “wrong for the police” when several patrons at the bar refused to go quietly into the police wagon. 

“It was time for society to decriminalize our lives. That’s what happened at the Stonewall” Jay says.

Before Stonewall, New York gays were routinely humiliated, scrutinized and arrested solely for being themselves, especially in the bars. 

“People from my generation who went to the bars, we knew about bar raids. They happened pretty frequently and there were bar raids before Stonewall and there were bar raids after Stonewall” Jay says. 

It was no surprise to Jay that an event like Stonewall happened. What made her know things were going to be different were the responsive actions of the Gay Liberation Front. 

“When I heard it was going to be a different kind of group, a more radical way … not like the others had been, that’s when I knew it was going to be different,” she says. 

A common question that pops up when hearing about Stonewall is what started it all? Some say they threw the first brick while others say they threw a shot glass. According to Jay, neither of these is what the historic moment was about. 

“It had to do with a routine police raid, police pay offs, anger at police pulling them aside, stripping them, arresting them for their clothing,” she says. 

Another important piece Jay points to is the “context of other historical acts of defiance.” At this point in American history, several other acts of defiance had happened across the country including the Montgomery bus boycotts, the March on Washington and the draft resistance. 

“Events do not happen in isolation,” Jay says.

Although there is no doubt that a sense of change and rebellion were in the air during the 1960s, there are quite a few disputes about what happened at Stonewall.

The first misconception is that the Stonewall events were violent. 

“When I went down there the second night, the door was still intact, the windows were still intact,” she says. However, she does not diminish its importance saying, “it was a rebellion.”

Second, is that the death of beloved actress Judy Garland sparked the rebellion. 

“It did not happen because people were so upset about (it),” Jay says.

The last major misconception Jay addressed, which may explain the questions people have about Stonewall, is how many people place themselves in the action. 

“I think people want to be recognized and we all want to see ourselves in the heroism of everyone that stood up,” she says. 

Regardless of the blurred lines, Stonewall’s significance can’t be overstated. It led to a new way that people presented themselves based solely in pride of who they were. 

This newfound sense of pride was soon followed by an organized movement called the Gay Liberation Front. Jay says it “changed everything …we changed the culture.”

It was comprised of a mixture of identities standing up for what they believed was right and decided to push for legal and social action.

“It made it a wonderful kind of group for a new movement because the old movement didn’t really welcome all these people, particularly trans people. It was a new wave with new beginnings of radical resistance to oppression,” Jay says. 

This new wave of resistance left its mark on the world and since then has trickled down into the movements of today like Gays Against Guns and the ever-growing dyke and trans marches. 

“We are on the cusp of a new era of taking to the streets” that will eventually grow into a “new wave of radicalism” that will address the legal backlash the LGBTQ community is facing,” she says. 

In light of all the movements that are pushing for social change, some institutions have thought to address their involvement in harassment against LGBTQ people, including the New York City Police Department. 

According to the New York Times, the commissioner, James P. O’Neil, said, “The actions taken by the N.Y.P.D. were wrong — plain and simple.”

Jay thought the apology was “a great first step.”

“I want to know what are they doing to protect our community now in a different and meaningful way, particularly that trans population. Your apology means nothing without concrete action,” she says. 

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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