New film ‘Stonewall Uprising’ revisits LGBT milestone

What inspired you to research Stonewall, and how long did it take to write the book?

[Carter] I had long been fascinated by Stonewall, by its mythic power, but I was also fascinated that even after Martin Duberman’s book on Stonewall appeared there was still so much controversy about what had really happened and why.

I felt that it was still possible to get to the bottom of things, and trying to solve all the mysteries and controversies surrounding the event finally became an obsession for me, but the kind of obsession that is healthy, perhaps even necessary, for a writer.

And because there were so many mysteries — and because there was a lot of controversy about whether some persons who were represented in the literature were even there in fact — I had to be very careful about how I collected the evidence. So both collecting the information and sorting and sifting it all out is the reason that the book took a decade to research and write.

Do you think the film accurately reflects the history included in your book?

Yes, gviven that the filmmakers had to simplify the story a bit. I understand that film by its nature is brutally economic in terms of telling a story, but I would have liked to have had the role of the Stonewall in blackmailing its patrons and the consequent theft of bonds from Wall Street in the police decision to shut down the bar included.

But the filmmakers thought it was adding too much to what was already an ambitious agenda for an hour and a half film. Of course that is the virtue of books: more complex material can be fully addressed. I am very proud of and pleased with the film.

While my tasks were various — from advising on the script, to working to ensure the film’s accuracy, and critiquing the film from the very first assemblage to the final cut — I think my main contribution was perhaps the simplest job I performed: determining who could be considered for inclusion in the film.

After interviewing all available credible Stonewall participants and witnesses for a decade, I knew which ones had reliable memories and remarkable experiences, making them the stuff of natural-born narrators.

Why do think it is important for people to remember the Stonewall uprising?

Because it is a key part of our history, and if we want to be taken seriously as a group of people with an identity, which I think is key to our being a culture and therefore not only surviving but thriving, we have to have a history.

Think of it: is there any important group identity that does not involve a common narrative? And does not that narrative then give the group a key part of its meaning? If we do not know our history, how can we ask others to take our history, and therefore us as a community, seriously?

After all, we are not like Jews or blacks or Hispanics or most other groups who are born into a family of the same kind and are taught about this critical part of our identity and meaning by our parents. And since our sexual orientation is so important to us as a people whom the world has not yet chosen to embrace, I think this kind of positive cultural identity is all the more important.

What do you think is the most common misconception about Stonewall?

There are so many that it is difficult to say which is the most common, but I think certainly the most important misconception concerns why Stonewall is important.

Stonewall would be totally insignificant if all the protest and mayhem had not led to the creation of a new phase of our movement for equality, the “gay liberation” phase that followed the “homophile” phase. In other words, I wish people would take more of an interest in the history of the Gay Liberation Front and especially the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), for it is GAA that found a way to spread the militant energy, the new consciousness that Stonewall expressed.

When people read about Stonewall and stovp there, it is as if someone read about the fall of the Bastille but knew nothing about the French Revolution.

You are from Georgia. How do you think the state compares to the rest of the country on LGBT rights?

Clearly Georgia still has a long way to go, farther than most other states, but the LGBT community in Georgia does have its own record of proud accomplishments, and I have faith that my native state will eventually grant equality to its LGBT citizens, just as it has to its black citizens, an area where Georgia also lagged behind in my youth.

What lessons can we learn from Stonewall that apply to the contemporary LGBT rights movements?

The most important lesson in my mind is to always stand up for ourselves: being assertive may not usually mean civil disobedience or taking to the streets, but we must be strong and stand up and work to get our civil rights, else we shall never get them.


Top photo: Courtesy Bettye Lane