Stonewall was a riot

The front line of rioters outside the Stonewall Inn, 28 June 1969

Jonathan Neale and Nancy Lindisfarne.

The most important event in the long history of lesbian, gay and trans liberation happened on a summer night fifty years ago. It was not direct action, civil disobedience, a meeting, a march, a court case, an election or a strike. It was a riot led by underage sex workers, which was the point, and why that night changed the world. 

In 1969 the Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in New York City, in the beat and bohemian neighbourhood on the southern tip of the island of Manhattan. ‘The village’ was also a homosexual haven – men heard about it from all over the country and came to a place where they could find others like themselves and be a little bit open.

Homosexuality was illegal in 49 out of the 50 United States. Men and women were deep in the closet. The lavender scare of the 1950s had lost even more people their jobs than the red scare. Persecution had been deepening through the 1960s, particularly arrests on the street and in gay bars. Working class communities were more tolerant of openly effeminate men than professional communities and workplaces, which were very hostile.

In this intolerant world, the Stonewall Inn was special. There were, as far as anyone could tell, more homosexual men and women in New York City than anywhere else in the country. San Francisco maybe had a bigger proportion of gays and lesbians, but it was a much smaller a city. And Stonewall was the only gay bar where you could be fully yourself. In the other places, you could dance in the dark, but when the lights came on without warning, you had to sit down abruptly. At the Stonewall, the lights stayed low.

The bouncers at the other bars had rules. No one could enter who looked too feminine, or too young. We need to be clear what we mean by feminine here, because times and words have changed so much. Contemporary witnesses say that many patrons at the Stonewall were queens, even ‘screaming queens’ and ‘flame queens’. So many people are likely to assume now that those were drag queens, and men in women’s clothes. A few were, and most were not. In 1969 a queen meant a man who looked effeminate, but far less so than David Bowie, Freddie Mercury or Prince in their prime. Bell bottoms trousers, a loose shirt with flowers on it, maybe a necklace and a head band, a bit of blush – that would do it. Small touches were enough to be called a queen and noticed on the streets of New York.

You could dress like that and walk like that and get into the Stonewall. The bouncers let young men in. There were many gay, effeminate teenage boys in New York. Some of them still lived at home, but many had been kicked out or left. They heard about the village and came from all over the country. They lived homeless, on the streets, further uptown mostly, and made a living hustling – stealing and prostitution. They were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, and they often only had the clothes they stood up in. They were out, flamboyant, tough, and terribly vulnerable inside. Most gay men would have nothing to do with them, even the drag queens. In the village, gay men with homes threw bottles out the window at them. The Stonewall was the only bar that would let them in.

There were women in drag too, though not so many. And some lesbians. They were important in starting the riot. Continue reading


Defending Abortion after Kavanaugh (1): Lessons from History 1964-1980

Judith Widdecombe, abortion pioneer in MIssouri

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Kavanaugh’s confirmation after Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony now taints the Supreme Court. And not by chance, a majority of the justices on the court are now expressly against abortion rights.

This is the first of two posts looking to the history of abortion rights in America. Both focus on lessons learned at each stage in the struggle. They are valuable lessons, and lessons we can use in the fight to preserve abortion rights in the future.

We make two central points in this post. Abortion rights were won by a mass movement, not the Supreme Court. Second, the abortion wars continue because abortion has come to stand for women’s equality,  sexual freedom and desire. Continue reading

Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh and seven useful insights about sexual violence

Protest in St Louis, 2 October 2018

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: Last Thursday, Christine Blasey Ford testified before the judiciary committee of the US Senate. She said that Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee for the Supreme Court, had attempted to rape her when she was 15. He denied it.

She told the truth and he was lying. Everyone in the room knew this, including the all eleven Republican senators.

What happened next was something else. The Republican senators rallied to defend the right to rape. Sure, class also mattered, and abortion, and Trump, and the midterm elections. But centrally, they did not want Kavanaugh to pay a price for his sexual violence.

An extraordinary moment of #metoo resistance had provoked that Republican backlash, and they closed ranks fast and hard.

When a system is working smoothly the mechanics of power are hidden. But when there is a breakdown, a ‘breach case’, we sometimes have an opportunity to see how the system works. And the links and deep loyalties that keep inequality in place become visible.

The hearing has offered such an opportunity. It gives us a chance to formulate seven useful ideas about sexual violence. Continue reading

Oil Empires and Resistance in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria


Afghan Resistance, 1842

Afghan Resistance, 1842

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

This article is about three intersecting wars in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.[1] The bombings in Paris occurred just as we were finishing the piece, and give our arguments here further tragic relevance.

This piece is 25,000 words long, and readers may find it easier to read by downloading the version here: Oil Empires 16Nov2015 FIN5.

It will help the reader to know from the outset where we stand. We want the mass resistance to the Assad regime in Syria to win, and the Russian armed forces and their allies to leave. We want the Americans and their allies to leave Afghanistan, now, completely. We want Assad and the American, British, French and Russian military to stop bombing the Syrian resistance and the Islamic State.[2] Continue reading

The Five Chinese Feminists

Chinese feminists protesting against domestic violence in blood spattered bridal gowns

Chinese feminists protesting against domestic violence in blood spattered bridal gowns

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write:  Five Chinese feminists have been arrested for planning to protest against sexual harassment. They face five to ten years in jail. This post explains the background to the case, and suggests ways that other activists around the world can show solidarity.

Continue reading

Gang abuse in Oxford

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Last year seven men from Oxford were convicted in court on multiple counts of rape and abuse of young women and girls. They were part of a criminal gang that prostituted the girls for money. They concentrated on needy and vulnerable girls. The rapes usually began when the girls were between eleven and fifteen. The recent official report estimates, conservatively, that a total of 370 girls in Oxfordshire have been abused by gangs since 2005.

All seven of the men convicted were Asian. Six of the survivors testified. The fascist English Defence League has called a national demonstration in Oxford on April 4. They say that the council and the police did nothing because they were protecting Asians.

Unite Against Fascism and the local trades council have called for a mobilisation against the EDL on the same day, to prevent them from using the suffering of Oxfordshire children for their own ends. They are right to do so.

However, we need more than that. The local Labour MP, Andrew Smith, has called for an official inquiry to investigate how abuse on this scale was allowed to happen. He too is right.

But we also have to face the question of who is to blame for allowing the abuse to continue. In this blog we confront the racist arguments about abuse head on. In doing so, we have to say who is to blame for allowing the abuse to continue: the senior managers in the schools, the social services and the police.

Continue reading