It had never been asked of me like that before and came as a complete surprise. I was out doing business at our bank where the PGN staff has become very friendly with the bank staff. While standing at the teller, there's a tap on my shoulder. Michael, one of the gay staffers there who's in his 20s, asks me to come over to his desk after I'm done.
Sitting down at his desk he leaned towards me and said, "Read in the Inquirer that you were at Stonewall. What was it like?" The Inquirer story he was talking about was an interview I gave after the president mentioned Stonewall in his inauguration speech. There have been a lot of calls and interviews since then. The first was with another Stonewall vet and good friend, or as he likes to say, sister, Jerry Hose. We Skyped minutes after the president spoke those words.
But this was somewhat different. This was a young member of our community, and it felt different. It was that moment that made me understand the significance of what the president had done. For me that moment was unreal; someone was asking me to relive a historic event that I was part of. For each of us, I can say we didn't know it would be history and we didn't quite know the significance of our actions.
Michael asking the question triggered an avalanche of emotions. It became real to me. We sometimes are too busy fighting for today that we seldom have time to look back. And Michael's question, his wording and that awestruck look on his face ... it's overwhelming, and thanks to the president, we, like the nation, are beginning to appreciate what is Stonewall.
And the president has reached out to Stonewall vets. My favorite example was when he met Jerry and thanked him. Jerry, who was dressed in a SAGE shirt, as he never wears a suit and tie, not even to the White House. Mr. President, thank you for your words, and for listening to Jerry, who is now, like me, an LGBT senior activist.
But back to Michael. I've always told just small details of that night from my own perspective. For more than 40 years and in thousands of speaking engagements, I've told little. I thought I'd go into detail in my memoirs, but it's getting a little late, so here's what I told him.
The lights blinked - that was a signal that there would be a raid - then the lights went on. I was in the back near the dance floor, where the younger people usually hung out. I was 18 and had just moved to New York from Philly.
Looking like the boy next door, I got carded and was among the first group to be let out. You see, it was the older men who the police might be able to blackmail and thus were of interest to them, and of course the drag queens and effeminate men who they felt, until that night, they could harass. I was of no use to them. But...
As I left, I met Marty Robinson, sort of the leader of The Action Group, of which I was one of the four members. We had an important role. After telling Marty what was happening, he disappeared and reappeared with chalk. What most people don't realize is that Stonewall was not just one night. Marty realized it was a way to organize. The four of us wrote on walls and the street up and down Christopher Street: "Meet at Stonewall tomorrow night."
I'll save more details for that book I'll someday write. We eventually became Gay Liberation Front; I'm still not sure exactly how that happened but, GLF, and to a lesser extent Gay Activist Alliance, are the reasons we now have what is called a community.
In the last few years, LGBT history has been a passion for me, and I thought the younger generation didn't care. Our history is what the foundation of our community is built on and will be the building blocks for the future.
Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Michael.