It was 1969, and I was 24—always looking for a good topic to link into Wednesday evening Bible Study in my Michigan home. They were high school and college students—25 to 55 of them from varied church backgrounds—and many none at all — who met there every week. Most were not particularly interested in the Bible, but very interested in the ‘boatload’ of frozen pizza my oven and the ovens of my neighbors baked every Wednesday evening to help me out. First, they’d swim in the lake out front and then wrap up in towels and soak the rest of Big Wolf Lake liquid residue into my family room carpet as we sat on the floor together for a couple of hours. They’d bring along each week their favorite music and ‘good natured dare me not’ to find a Biblical text story or character that jumped right out of the music into their lives of stress, hope, fear, and love through its word, pathos, and spirit. On this Wednesday, though, it would be me. And them finding direction, answers, or not.
It was about Stonewall. It’s almost hard for me to remember how difficult it was to get information about things that happened back then. I knew only sketchy details. Some bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. Some bar where people who just happened to be gay and lesbian could go along with everybody else. That’s all. Some place to be together and okay. Police raids on public places where people of the community gathered were quite common in the 60’s. In fact, a lot more than police raids happened regularly in every state of the Union. The difference that night (I looked it up to be certain. It was June 28) was that this place said ‘enough is enough.’ Where else might such a reaction happen—when it comes to bigotry and injustice—but Greenwich Village with its wide assortment of people—as well as samples all around of those poorest and most marginalized. I knew that much, and that’s what I told the group dripping on the carpet. Some young people said they didn’t know any gay people. Another said, “It’s probably not safe to tell anybody.” Another, home for the summer from Wayne State, had that deep, ‘this is my story’ look in his eyes. One asked why it matters, and another said, “There’s always somebody who thinks everything matters.” No one asked me what the Bible said (I told you it was the swim and pizza, didn’t I?) I threw out a few things in the Bible that seemed to matter in other areas when you knew the history–that didn’t make sense when you think about it now–and said, ‘”When you look under what it says, the Bible doesn’t seem to be talking about what we’re talking about here.” I asked if they’d like to look the passages up. “Not really,” one said, “It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between that kind of stuff and the parts of the Bible that matters in life.” One said something like, “ We’ve got enough to do with the peace and love part.” Another: “If I were gay, my folks would have a cow. But they have a cow about a lot of things.”
I lived on from that night to keep track, as best I could, about what happened at Stonewall Inn. I heard about the Greenwich Village community organizing activist groups and more and more places beginning to open that were safer for people who were of the community of LGBTQA, long before the ‘letters’ were so assigned—and long before I realized I was ‘a letter’, too. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Allies. I am an ‘A’. This all came back to me on Tuesday when during his 18 minute Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama said ‘Stonewall.’ I blurted out “He said ‘Stonewall. Not very many listening to right now him know what he’s talking about, but lots are about to find out! He said, ‘Stonewall.” You see, my Stonewall shirt is on the closet shelf. I checked. It’s in the same stack of folded shirts as two about Peace and one about Puppies. Then there’s a Beatles shirt and some others from where we’ve vacationed. I dried my eyes on one of them, a puppy one, I think.
He said Stonewall!! I am so glad I’ve lived this long!!!
PS Mark your calendar, set your smart phone alarm, and head your wheels for The Church Within, Saturday, February 9, 8:00. It’s a Tim Spradlin Concert! Every $10 ticket goes to defray set cost for Rabbit Hole, a great ‘Church Within’ play Tim’s directing Fridays/Saturdays, 8:00, March 15-30.