Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets

Pitman, Gayle E. The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets
May 14th 2019 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

June 28th marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, New York City, so it's great to have a new middle grade title that does such a fantastic job of explaining the events of that week along with background information of the social constructs that lead to the riots.

While there have always been LGBTQ+ individuals, society has dealt harshly with that population. There are still problems with how US society particularly deals with any number of different groups, but today's young readers probably do not realize how truly harsh the treatment has been in the past. A clear overview of this is presented, with an emphasis on how the 1950s saw an increase in the number of groups that formed to deal with the challenged the LGBTQ+ community faced.

This was the first surprise for me. While my high school history classes ended with the Cold War, I am fairly well versed in history. Still, I had no clue that groups like the Mattachine Society (Gay men who wanted to work for their inclusion in mainstream society by adhering to very conservative rules regarding dress and behavior) and the Daughters of Bilitis (a Lesbian group dedicated to helping women find friends and promoting self-acceptance. Because society was so unaccepting, it was important for the LGBTQ+ community to help each other deal with society and also their own feelings of self worth. These were the only major groups that formed until the late 1960s.

San Francisco was a rare place in the US that had laws that were more accepting of this culture, and Gay bars and clubs could operate legally there. This did not mean they weren't harassed by law enforcement, however. The general practice for raids on these clubs was to arrest people who did not have political connections and publish their names and addresses in the newspaper! This lead to the practice of not providing one's real name when joining organizations or having memberships; this becomes important later on.

Pitman does a good job of not only describing historic events, but the cultural bias at the time and explaining how the convergence of these things led to the riots. Since the 1960s culture became increasingly more accepting of differences, the LGBTQ+ community felt frustrated at always being forced into the closet in order to be safe from harassment, and this frustration escalated into the events at the Stonewall Inn.

Here's where it got REALLY interesting to me. While mainstream news media covered this event, even the Village Voice was very insensitive about the wording it used, and there didn't seem to be the video coverage we're so used to today. People were not interviewed immediately after, and Pitman points out that we are still not entirely sure what exactly happened during this time. Imagine! An event of this importance, during my lifetime, and we can't really prove a timeline of events or a roster of those involved! Once people started to discuss this event more openly, in the 1980s and 1990s, many of the participants known to be there had passed away. If for no other reason, the importance of recording historical events makes this book worth reading.

Any LGBTQ+ issues are seen by some people to be inappropriate for middle grade, and this is such a hurtful stance. The Stonewall Riots is an important book covering previously ignored history, and is crucial in understanding the growing intersectionality of movements that we see in the news every day. Middle school and high school libraries have a responsibility to include it in their collections. There are only two things that might be of concern; at one point, the term sodomy is defined as "having sex with another man". In my experience, all middle schoolers have heard the phrase "have sex". Some of them know what it means; others have no clue. As long as the phrase is used and not explained, this should offend no one. The only other matter of concern would be the transcript of Sylvia Rivera's speech at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, which mentions rape (but again, offers no description) and has many words bleeped out. This was not essential to understanding the Stonewall Riots, and would not have been the way that I would have ended the narrative, but again, is not offensive or instructional and should not keep this book from being included in middle school collections. Still, it is important to know what is included in books in case parents or teachers have questions.

My students have a great interest in LGBTQ+ issues, and it is important to have a variety of books that discuss current as well as past issues that face this community. If students are not able to find books like these, it sends a message that these are issues that cannot be discussed openly, which would take us right back fifty years. Our students deserve better.

No comments:

Post a Comment