A Community Reflects On Stonewall
By Julia Dunn
This week has been filled with parades, art exhibitions, speeches, presentations and mostly celebrations to honor the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. As you walk down Christopher Street this week, there is an immediate assault of bright colors, pride flags, celebratory people and signs reminding everyone of the historic event they are celebrating. The pride parade itself fell on the exact day, which 40 years ago sparked an entire gay rights movement.
Richard Wandel, archivist for the LGBT community center, presented his personal reflections on the past and how the gay rights movement has grown from the Stonewall Riots to where it stands today. Thursday June 25 Wandel spoke to a group of more than 30 people in the Chelsea Recreation Center.
Wandel has worked for the LGBT community center archives for 20 years, since it was co-founded by him and others on a special committee. Wandel was also the second president of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) that was established in December in 1969. The group branched off of the Gay Liberation Front to form a more specific and non-violent organization.
The first pride-focused event the Arts, Culture and Fun series for the parks in Manhattan threw attracted a very diverse audience as well as other archivists. Fellow volunteer archivist Nick Kaluk with the LGBT community Center said, “I feel like I don’t know much about Stonewall history, certainly not as much as Rich does.” Wandel provided a very detailed account of the night of the Stonewall raid as well as many events for gay rights that followed after that he personally was involved in.
Wandel began, “Once upon a time in a city by the sea,” and continued to describe every event of the night and how this particular raid differed from others including a raid of Stonewall on a Tuesday night of that same week. Wandel described every detail that made this night different including the 200 people in the bar, the police call for back-up continuously being revoked by another voice on the line but most importantly, the resistance and actions of the crowd against the police officers.
Following the retelling of the night, Wandel went on to detail his actions with the GAA and noted their mission, “The most important thing was to get people to come out,” said Wandel. “The way to do that was to be loud, active and to be nonviolent but extremely militant.” On top of that Wandel talked about how they held demonstrations and the types of protests GAA would stage saying, “We’re gay men and women, we don’t just shout and hold banners, we have to have a little flare!”
“Richard is known as a storyteller,” said Denise Alicea, a deputy chief of recreation for Parks and Recreation in Manhattan. Wandel did a great job of taking all the people in the room back to the time period and engaged the audience with his own experiences.
The Arts, Culture and Fun series is a branch of the Parks and Recreation division of the City of New York and was run by Alicea and Richard Sedlisky for the past year through nearly 15 diverse events.
Program attendance has ranged from 300 to a mere 15, but Sedlisky said he does not worry about low attendance, “We shouldn’t fear turn out or lack of because it’s not about the number but it’s about what people get from it.”
The group gathered on Thursday evening was very diverse and really drew many friends of Wandel as long as curious community members. “A lot of things we do gathers a cross section of people and I think it erases stereotypes,” Sedlisky said.
You can find more information about the Arts, Culture and Fun series’ next event by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org.