At the end of the Stonewall Riots, in my novel Adam in the Morning, four men are sitting on the high stoop of the building just west of the Stonewall Inn. It is eleven or twelve, the night of July 2, 1969, and the men are resting after fighting New York cops for five or six hours. Other men stop by the stoop and ask if they’re OK—they are bruised and have blood in their hair—and they make plans for the coming days. The four men watch the cops and the crowds disperse. They talk about what’s happened. They know it was something stupendous, and they agree it was fine. Their conversation gets slower, as it does when people, having just had a life transforming experience, are lost in their own thoughts. Then Joseph, the actor from Los Angeles, says, “I’m thinking of all the people not here, who would like to have been here.”
“Right,” Andrew [the partner of the narrator] says, “we ought to drink a toast to them. To everybody who couldn’t make it. And to all those who survived the time before the riots.”
“Great,” Bo [the narrator and Andrew’s partner] says, “Remember our brothers and sisters here and everywhere, now and since the beginning.” They hug each other’s shoulders.
During the five nights of the rioting, a man who wasn’t there the first night, says, “I wish I had been there.” Belle says, “I am aware of all of you having had this life-transforming event last night and everybody is feeling like comrades, and suddenly I feel left out,” and makes plans to riot the next time the cops appear. The men tell her she’ll have to run from the cops so she should chuck her wedgies and wear sandals. During all the fighting, the people on Christopher Street are aware that they have been given an opportunity which others would like to have had—men and women who would have fought if they had been in New York during the riots or been alive or been old enough or not too old.
It’s not complicated. After many of the great moments of recent gay history, there have been people who said, We have to remember all the men and women who aren’t here, but who are one of us. The gesture answers a human need to think of the others. Humans tend to forget the past, to forget the people who were not here, to forget those who came to the conflict late, to act as if the only gay people who matter are the ones on the street, fighting. But we can’t forget our past. In addition to winning the battle for marriage in the Supreme Court and in fourteen states, we have to win the battle for our history and not let it be lost to us. The guys in the street in New York were not the only guys in the gay community in 1969. Gay men and women were everywhere then, just as gay men and women are everywhere now. We do this for everyone’s sake—recognizing that everyone contributed to our history—and also for our own.
Andrew and Bo and Joseph and Belle are characters in my novel, Adam in the Morning, Adriana Books, 2010. You may read about Adam in the Morning on my website www.dwightcathcart.net, where you may also buy this book for your ereader.