This Week's NY Gay Games Celebrate Gains Made since '69 Stonewall Riot

Article excerpt

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago Monday, four plainclothes policemen arrived at a bar at 53 Christopher Street, just east of Sixth Avenue in downtown Manhattan.

The place was known as a hang-out for homosexuals and transvestites, and the police were dispatched to raid it - nothing unusual in those days.

This particular bar was called the Stonewall Inn.

Twenty-five years later, on the second floor at headquarters of the New York City Police Department, you can see an art show that celebrates police officers who belong to an organization called GOAL. It's a fraternal group recognized by the police department. The letters stand for the Gay Officers Action League.

All last week, gay and lesbian men and women - of all ages, all sorts and conditions, from all walks of life and from all over the world - came to New York City by the hundreds of thousands.

Their presence here has a complicated, deeply textured, emotional, political and celebratory relationship both to the Stonewall raid and to the pictures of gay and lesbian cops in police headquarters.

What makes Stonewall important? It was the last straw, the gay Alamo, the place where a symbolic breath was drawn and a decision was made. There, a group of men, some wearing dresses and high-heel shoes, fought back.

In the early hours of June 27, 1969, and for several days after, gays rioted. They demanded to be left alone, to be harrassed no longer. At one point, they locked police officers inside the Stonewall Inn.

"A bunch of fairies had the police barricaded," says Bob Kohler, 68, who knows. He was there and his blue eyes sparkle when he recalls those days.

"It was the first time that lesbians and gay men had voices. It was unknown to have this kind of empowerment. We won a battle that no one had ever fought before."

Today at police headquarters, work by gay artists and color photos of gay and lesbian police officers hang together. In a quarter century, many apparently fundamental attitudes about homosexual men and women have changed. The NYPD now actively recruits gay and lesbian officers.

***** Team St. Louis Celebrates

It is late Thursday afternoon and a bunch of gay and lesbian athletes from St. Louis have gotten together at the Eighty-Eight Club bar on West 10th Street in Greenwich Village. They are celebrating their successes in Gay Games IV, a week-long competition that began last Sunday.

In all, about 11,000 athletes from 41 countries registered to compete. About 7,000 volunteers signed up to help out.

The bar is the sort that is "frequented by homosexuals," as the now-quaint reference goes. But nobody is scared of being busted, nor upset when a reporter from the hometown paper arrives to ask questions.

A few years back, both cops and inquisitive reporters could have been terrifying to gay men and lesbian women who felt that they could not safely be frank about their sexuality - "out"in the vernacular of today.

Sam Sinnett of University City is here. He owns Medicine and More in Ellisville. Sinnett, 49, stands tall and proud, sporting gold medals he's won in three cycling competitions.

Betty Neeley sits at the bar. She runs a cleaning company, Cleaning, Etc., in St. Louis. At 58, she's playing billiards in the games in New York. She's proud that 85 men and women from St. Louis have come to compete.

Mark Johnson, 33, is sitting next to Neeley. He manages a printing company in St. Louis and participated in the martial arts events. That fierce competition is so tough, so hard, so elegant in its way that it has the power to destroy myths, he says.

The stereotypical homosexual male would not participate in such sports, he says, but real gay men do.

Much has changed since the Stonewall riots, he says, "But you still have to remember, there is a long way to go. …