Dis-membering Stonewall: an excerpt from the forthcoming "Love, Christopher Street: Reflections of New York City"

  • The service having id "propeller" is missing, reactivate its module or save again the list of services.
  • The service having id "buzz" is missing, reactivate its module or save again the list of services.
Dis-membering Stonewall: an excerpt from the forthcoming "Love, Christopher Street: Reflections of New York City"

and queer (LGBTQ) African Americans, our presence in the Village by the 1960s had less to do with the white LGBTQ community’s marginal tolerance of us than it had to do with our permanent eviction from Harlem. As a Black cultural and social Mecca, Harlem was home and refuge to New York City’s Black population beginning in the early 1900s. And within Harlem various groups of African Americans found their specific niche of self-expression and acceptance. By the time of the Harlem Renaissance, roughly from 1920–1935, LGBTQ African Americans, too, carved out for themselves a queer space of self-expression and acceptance.

During the Harlem Renaissance, a subculture of African American LGBTQ artists and entertainers emerged. Rent par­ties, speakeasies, sex circuses, and buffet flats were places where many of the major gay and bisexual male literary figures like Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Wallace Thurman, and Richard Bruce Nugent met, and many of the major bisexual and lesbian blues singers like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, “Moms” Mabley, Mabel Hampton, Alberta Hunter, and Gladys Bentley performed. The renowned Savoy Ballroom and the Rockland Palace hosted drag ball extravaganzas with prizes awarded for the best costumes. Langston Hughes depicted the balls as “spectacles of color.” George Chauncey, author of Gay New York, wrote that during this period, “perhaps nowhere were more men willing to venture out in public in drag than in Harlem.”

Harlem was both a complicated open and closeted queer social hot spot. The annual Hamilton Lodge event openly referred to the drag ball extravaganzas as the “Parade of the Pansies,” “Dance of the Fairies” and “‘Faggots’ Ball.” These balls were wildly popular and growing among Harlem’s working class, but the constant harass­ment by white policemen patrolling the neighborhood made the trans community a conspicuous target along with public denounce­ments of them by Black ministers like the famous Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. of the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

By the ’50s, the country was on a campaign to restore tradi­tional gender roles that had been disrupted by World War II, and McCarthyism was its policing mechanism. Special attention was given to LGBTQ Americans because J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and the police department kept a running list of us. Many of Harlem’s prominent LGBTQ denizens, who enjoyed a relative openness about their sexual orientation from the 1920s through the 1940s, were driven into the closet. By the 1960s, known queer