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Exhibition in the context of “The Queer Thing”, Eyduso Festival, Zurich 2017. The exhibition “Stonewall Riots” is an attempt at a fragmented, historical view of the Stonewall riots, which took place the last couple of days of June in the year of 1969 in New York City. The Stonewall riots are referenced as the beginning of the modern LGTBIQ human rights movement. 

The “Stonewall Riots” are an important reference for our ongoing solitary fight against homo and trans hostility as well as other discriminational structures, which are spread wide across the North American continent. 

The name of the “Stonewall Riots” derives itself from the “Stonewall Inn”, a popular gay bar in the 1960es in New York on Christopher Street. It became the epicenter for the homophile underground scene, especially for cruising gay men, drag queens, trans*people, streetkiddz and lesbians. 

Due to the illegal and precarious status of the Stonewall Inn (there was an law in NYC prohibiting the sale of alcohol to homosexuals) and the following repressive threats the owners of the Stonewall Inn were involved with the Mafia and paid regular briberies to the police. 

The customers of the bar were subject of structural homo- and transphobic violence as well as to discriminational repression. Through visibility in public space, gay men and trans* people opposed the existing patriarchal masculine role, which heightened the threat of physical violence. 

There were hardly any societies and official organisations at the time for gays, lesbians and trans* people that stood in for their rights. 

The only exception was the “Mattachine Society”, a gay group founded in the 1950es as well as the “Daughters of Billitis”, a lesbian woman organisation. These were considered the first big organisation that stood in for the rights of the LGTBQI community. Through there predominant white and bourgeois background and membership they mainly followed and propagated a very conform and exclusive form of protest, which stood in conflict with the emancipative movement of the late 1960es. 

Structural racism, discriminational repression, capitalistic exploitation and colonial power structures were themes which dominated the social and political climate of the 1960es, eventually leading to a social vacuum which mostly ended in violent outbreaks. Not only the civil rights movement, feministic movements, student riots and anti war protests (in the wake of Vietnam) are prominent examples but also the Black Power movement as well as other protests by Afro-American and People of Colour against racism. These influenced the Stonewall Riot activists immensely. The emancipative demands and political movements of the time set important foundations for the political fights which formed during and after the Stonewall riots.

It was the night of the 27. to the 28. of June 1969, when people gathered in front of the Stonewall Inn Bar on Christopher Street to commemorate the death of Judy Garland, the singer of the song “Over the Rainbow” out of “The Wizard of Oz”. The police felt the need to take action and forced their way into the bar, which ended in six nights of riots. 

Marsha P. Johnson, a black drag queen und trans icon was on of the first under the present who went forth violently against the police. Her resistance is therefore considered to be the beginning of the riots. Together with her friend Sylvia Rivera, a Latino trans activist and drag queen the two were involved in different activism, especially for the homeless community, streetkiddz and the young drag queen community. Together they founded the STAR alliance (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries as well as the Gay Liberation Front. 

In train of the commemoration events of the Stonewall riots in the following years, the annual “Christopher Street Day” was established. This turned into the CSD Pride, which has become an important transnational reference point in the fight for LGBTIQ rights. 

In Zurich the first big Pride was organised in 1994. The two month long event included different workshops, podiums, talk, films, reading, exhibitions, theatre, concerts performances etc. On the cover of the program of the CSD Pride of 1994 in Zurich was shown a historical picture of the White Night Riots. These took place in San Francisco in 1979 as a reaction to the killing of gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk. After running for office several times he was elected into the San Francisco city council. Due to his sexual orientation he was short shortly after. His murder caused outrage in the LGTBQI movement, which ended in the White Night Riots. 

The first CSD in Zurich took place in 1994 and was conceived as a 2 months festival. This led to the annual Pride. 

Homosexuality is still criminalised in 76 states worldwide. In some countries people are still threatened with the death penalty for living out their sexual orientation. The stereotyping of a progressive “west” and a backwards oriented “rest” is by no means wanting to be reproduced here, as many of the anti LGTBQI structures in Africa, Asia and the Middle East were effectively imposed by western colonialism. Furthermore homo- and transphobia are continually secured through christian missionary work. Racist repression, economic exploitation and patriarchal power structures are continuing ways of legitimating and reproducing repressive structures against LGTBIQ people. 

The exhibition follows a specific, inter-subjective viewpoint, reconstructed out of available materials without the presence of eye witnesses. The exhibition is based solely on research and written and visual sources. These (visual sources) are limited, due to the fact that many of the participants and activists had lived double lives, having to hide their identity most of their life. Therefore there is very little photo documentation, as it posed far too great a risk. Journalistic material is also rare due to a subdued interest of the press in the matter. 

It remains to be said that many of the groups, which are today considered part of the LGTBIQ community were not represented and remained invisible, unnamed or subsumed to a different group (f.e. bisexuals). Every time era has its own language and its own names; many of the granted political gender identities and sexual orientations today would not be adequate at that time, as the political demands were not yet fulfilled. 

With this Stonewall Riots exhibition we stand with all, who stood and still stand up for LGTBQI rights and who fight against all forms of discrimination and repression.  


Text from Rafaela Siegentaler, Timo B. and Gerhard Hintermann

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