Stonewall Uprising illustrates another great step forward in the story of human rights. The gay community organized en masse in 1968, and fought back with a vengeance. This was at the height of many national civil rights movements in the United States.

Pamela Cohn
Published date: September 1, 2010

The film looks back to June 28, 1969, when a violent encounter between New York City’s homosexual community and the city’s police department exploded. It would change things for many in profound ways; however, it was barely documented by the mainstream media.

In 1969, homosexual acts were illegal in every state in the US, except in Illinois. Gay people had no political power, no rights. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, a prolific husband and wife documentary filmmaking team based in New York City, were commissioned by PBS’ American Experience to make a film about the now-famous Stonewall riots that took place in New York’s West Village in the summer of that year. But before we even get to the recreation of that event, accompanied by commentary from some of the men and women who were there, Davis and Heilbroner meticulously and expertly illustrate the timbre of the general populace’s view on homosexuality. This is aided and abetted by vicious and incendiary propaganda about the dangers to society for which these “deviants” might be responsible, especially to young boys and girls vulnerable to encountering homosexuals in their schools, neighborhoods and playgrounds.

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The film starts with various selections of archival material that showcase the ways in which this “mental defect” or “psychopathy” could threaten normal families. As responsible Americans, we had to be vigilant about watching for any suspicious behavior in our little boys and girls and “correct” any aberrant tendencies immediately. From the public service announcement produced and released by the Albert Einstein School of Medicine called “Boys Beware” (1961), to CBS Reports’ news hour: The Homosexuals (1967) hosted by Mike Wallace, to footage of Detective John Sorenson of the Dade County Morals & Juvenile Squad scaring the wits out of junior high school students about what will happen to them if they’re caught being “homosexual” – these outrageous and fear-mongering pieces show us that if you were growing up gay in the 1950s and 1960s, you could be subjected to arrest and personal ruin (with your full name and home address appearing in the newspapers). Or sterilization, castration, electroshock therapy, lobotomy, and so-called “medical experimentation” at the hands of clinicians and …

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