WaterTower will produce ‘Hit the Wall,’ a play about the Stonewall Riots

Last May, WaterTower Theatre announced its 2016-17 season lineup, which culminated with a production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George. But the company’s newly-appointed artistic director, Joanie Schultz, has made her first major course-correction, and it’s a doozie: On the heals of Moonlight‘s historic victory at the Oscars, she has revealed that she will be replacing Sunday with a production of the play Hit the Wall, which tells the story of the Stonewall Riots that sparked the modern gay rights movement.

Described as a “play with music,” the rock-propelled historical epic — written by Ike Holter with music by Dan Lipton — was first produced in Chicago (Holter’s home base) at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2012; Schultz came to North Texas from Chicago earlier this year. She will also direct the production.

Set at the famed Christopher Street bar on June 27 and 28, 1969 — just after queer icon Judy Garland died — Hit the Wall follows a fierce collection of friends and strangers, allies and antagonists, as they party, mourn and eventually rebel in rioting that brought national attention to the oppression of LGBT people and began the “Pride” movement. Among those profiled: A black drag queen, a funny gay couple, a homophobic cop and a butch lesbian, as well as others.

“I’m proud to be directing this inspiring plat as my first production at WaterTower,” Schultz said. The piece “captures the spirit of a movement.”

It’s a clarion choice for Schultz, who is an unknown quantity for most theatergoers in North Texas. It certainly signals her commitment to diverse and edgy work by and about black, gay, radical subjects and artists. (Holter himself is gay and African-American.)

Ironically, in an interview last year with Playbill, Holter identified his favorite artist of all time as… Stephen Sondheim.

The production will run from July 28–Aug. 20. Tickets (which range from $20–$40, plus a pay-what-you-can performance) can be purchased here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Obama names Stonewall Inn a national monument

Stonewall Inn

The Stonewall Inn in New York City, now the centerpiece of the country’s first national monument to LGBT history.

The Stonewall Inn in New York — birthplace of the modern gay rights movement — is now a national monument, President Obama announced today (Friday, June 24).

That makes the Stonewall National Monument in New York City the first addition to the country’s national parks system specifically highlighting the history of the LGBT community, according to reports by NPR News.

NPR notes: “The monument covers nearly eight acres in New York’s Greenwich Village including a landmark gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. In June of 1969, gay patrons at the bar fought back against police persecution — an event that’s widely seen as a watershed in the campaign for LGBT rights.”

The Stonewall Riots are the reason that we celebrate June as National Gay Pride Month each year. The first “gay Pride parade” was held a year later to commemorate the riots.

In announcing the designation, President Obama said: “Raids like these were nothing new, but this time the patrons had had enough. So they stood up and spoke out. The riots became protests. The protests became a movement. The movement ultimately became an integral part of America.”

Watch the video of the president’s announcement below.

LGBT Equality Day

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin

In related news, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, D-WA, this week introduced a resolution to designate June 26, as “LGBT Equality Day,” honoring the anniversary of three significant victories won at the U.S. Supreme Court for the LGBT community.

The resolution points to the courts decisions in: Lawrence v. Texas, handed down June 26, 2003, overturning the Texas sodomy laws and others like it around the country; United States v. Windsor, handed down June 26, 2013, overturning Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and requiring the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions where those marriages were legally recognized; and Obergefell v. Hodges, handed down June 26, 2015, mandating marriage equality nationwide.

“America should celebrate the progress we have made to pass on to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less equal,” said Baldwin, the first open lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate. “But we cannot mistake our progress for victory. We have more work to do in the march for fairness, freedom and full equality for the LGBT community. I believe America is ready to take the next steps forward and together we will break down barriers so that every American has an equal opportunity to dream the same dreams, chase the same ambitions, and have the same shot at success.”

DelBene added, “In the last two decades, our nation has seen the Defense of Marriage Act overturned, an end to the criminalization of same-sex conduct and now nationwide marriage equality — all through Supreme Court decisions handed down on June 26. But even as same-sex couples enjoy the right to marry in all 50 states, LGBT people continue to face violence, inequality and discrimination simply for who they are and who they love.

“Our resolution designates the 26th of June as ‘LGBT Equality Day’ not only to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also to acknowledge how much work remains to be done,” she added.

The resolution is co-sponsored by more than 175 members of Congress and is supported by the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund and the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

—  Tammye Nash

West Hollywood gay club on endangered list; NYC nods to Stonewall, rainbow flag


The Factory, site of a former gay club in West Hollywood, faces the threat of demolition. Photo credit: Hunter Kerhart

The National Trust for Historic Preservation today (Wednesday, June 24) released its annual list of the eleven most endangered historic sites in the country. Among them is the Factory, a West Hollywood, Ca. building once home to the gay club Studio One.

Originally built for major movie camera manufacturer Mitchell Camera Corporation in 1929, the building later housed a gay club called Studio One. Founded in 1974 by Scott Forbes, an out Beverly Hills optometrist, as a haven for gay men it hosted Patti LaBelle, Joan Rivers and Liza Minnelli and fundraisers throughout the AIDS epidemic, according to the West Hollywood Heritage Project.

“Studio One is designed and conceived for… gay male people. Any straight people here are guests of the gay community!” Forbes said of the club. It closed in 1993.

Like other listings – including Fort Worth’s Stockyards and the Grand Canyon – it’s threatened at the hands of developers seeking to cultivate a larger tax base. In this case, the Factory faces the threat of demolition to make way for a pedestrian walkway toward a planned hotel.

On the other side of the coast, in New York City, LGBT history is being preserved. The historic Stonewall Inn was given a historic preservation designation by the city’s historic landmarks commission. The Inn, fortunately, does not face the threat of demolition like the Factory. (That can’t be said, however, for the rest of the city.) The inn is already located in Greenwich Village Historic District, designated as an historic site by the city and the National Register of Historic Places. According to The New York Times, advocates said the city’s designation was necessary to preserve and recognize the historic site.

“It must be protected against rapacious developers who would destroy the history of this sacred place and all it represents,” said Letitia James, the city’s public advocate.

In another nod to LGBT history, the Museum of Modern Art of New York acquired artist Gilbert Baker’s iconic rainbow flag for its collection.

“We’re proud the MoMA collection now includes this powerful design milestone,” wrote museum curators Paola Antonelli and Michelle Millar Fisher in a statement, “and there’s no more perfect time to share this news than during global celebrations for Gay Pride Month.”

—  James Russell

Henry Gerber: The gay rights pioneer you probably never heard of

Henry Gerber

Henry Gerber

Last week — Thursday, Feb. 12, to be exact — the National Historic Landmarks Committee, chaired by Dr. Stephen Pitti of Yale University, unanimously approved the nomination of the Henry Gerber House, located at 1710 North Crilly Court in Chicago, to move forward as a National Historic Landmark.

The nomination advances now to the National Park System Advisory Board in May and then to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for final approval.

But here’s my question: Do you know who Henry Gerber is and while LGBT people should care about his house possibly becoming a National Historic Landmark? No? I didn’t either, I am embarrassed to admit. So I looked it up.

Henry Gerber

Henry Gerber was born June 29, 1892, as Henry Joseph (maybe Josef?) Dittmar in Bavaria. He changed his name to Henry Gerber when he emigrated to the U.S. in 1913, when he was 21. He and other members of his family located in Chicago because of the huge German immigrant community there.

Early in 1917, Gerber was committed for a short time to a mental institution because he was gay. But after the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 2, 1917 and entered World War I, Gerber — like other German immigrants — was given the choice of being declared an enemy alien and locked up (you know, like what happened to a lot of Japanese-Americans in World Word II), or enlisting in the Army. Surprise, surprise, Gerber chose to enlist in the Army.

Gerber was assigned to work as a printer/proofreader with the Allied occupation forces in Coblenz, and spent about three years serving in the military.

During that time in Germany, Gerber learned about Magnus Hirschfield and his Scientifc-Humanitarian Committee, and their efforts to repeal Germany’s Paragraph 175, the law that criminalized sex between men, and which was responsible for keeping many gay men imprisoned following World War II, even after other prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were freed. Gerber also spent some time in Berlin while he was stationed in Germany, at a time when Berlin had a thriving gay subculture.

When he got out of the Army, Gerber returned to Chicago and went to work for the U.S. Post Office there. But he didn’t forget what he had seen and learned in Germany, and in 1924 Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights, the oldest documented LGBT organization in the country.

Gerber filed for and received nonprofit status for his new organization, and African-American clergyman John T. Graves signed on as president. Graves, Gerber and five other men were named as members of the organization’s board. The state of Illinois granted the Society for Human Rights its charter on Dec. 10, 1924. Gerber also started “Friendship and Freedom,” the SHR’s newsletter, which is the first known gay-interest publication. It only lasted for two issues, as most SHR members were afraid to have it mailed to their homes.

Gerber and Graves and the other board members decided to limit SHR membership to gay men, specifically excluding bisexuals. Unfortunately, SHR Vice President Al Weininger was married with two children. And Weninger’s wife reported SHR to a social worker in the summer of 1925, calling them “degenerates.”

Gerber was interrogated by police, who arrested him, Graves, Weininger and one other man. Even though Gerber was tried three times, charges against him were eventually dismissed. Still, it ruined his life: Defending himself cost him his life savings and he lost his job for “conduct unbecoming a postal worker.”

And the Society for Human Rights was destroyed in the process.

In 1927, Gerber traveled to New York, where a friend introduced him to an Army colonel who convinced Gerber to re-enlist. He served until 1945 when he received an honorable discharge. During that time, he ran a pen pal service called “Connections,” most of the members of which were heterosexual.

After leaving the military, Gerber lived in New York wrote for a number of publications, occasionally writing about the case for gay rights. Sometimes he used his own name; sometimes he wrote under the pen name Parisex.

Gerber also corresponded extensively with other gay men, discussing strategies for organizing and for addressing prejudices against gays.

Toward the end of his life, Gerber moved into the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., dying there on Dec. 31, 1972, at the age of 80.


Remembering Gerber

Gerber was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1992, and The Gerber House was designated as a Chicago Landmark on June 1, 2001. Chicago’s Gerber/Hart Library is named in honor of Gerber and another early defender of gay rights, attorney Pearl M. Hart.

Recognition of the Gerber house will acknowledge the extraordinary significance of 1710 North Crilly Court not only to LGBTQ citizens but to America’s own account of its civil rights struggles, according to a press release from Rainbow Heritage Network, a national association for those concerned about the recognition and preservation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer history and heritage.

The Henry Gerber House nomination was prepared by Jonathan Farr, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, Andrea Rottmann and April Slabosheski, graduate students at the University of Michigan, as part of the University of Michigan Public History Initiative. Their advisor was Dr. Michelle McClellan.

The nomination was presented to the Landmarks Committee by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto. The nomination was written as part of the National Park Service’s LGBTQ Heritage Initiative, which was announced at Stonewall by Secretary Jewell in May 2014. Mark Meinke, co-founder of the Rainbow Heritage Network and Megan Springate, prime consultant for the LGBTQ Heritage Initiative and co-founder of the Rainbow Heritage Network, were among those who spoke in support of the nomination.

There are only six places recognized by the National Historic Landmarks and National Register of Historic Places\programs for their association with LGBTQ history: Stonewall Inn in New York (a National Historic Landmark), The National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco (a National Monument), and Carrinton House in New York, Cherry Grove Community House and Theater in New York, the Dr. Franklin E. Kameny Residence in Washington, D.C., and the James Merrill House in Connecticut ( all on the National Register of Historic Places).

You can see the Gerber House nomination here.

The National Park Service LGBTQ Heritage Initiative is online here.


—  Tammye Nash

‘Rainbow Lounge’ documentary to screen at UNT film fest Saturday

It’s been nearly a year since North Texas filmmaker Robert L. Camina first screened his documentary feature Raid of the Rainbow Lounge for Texas audiences. The 103-minute documentary, narrated by out TV star Meredith Baxter, chronicles the raid by TABC and Fort Worth police on the newly opened gay club, which happened to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the raid of the Stonewall Inn, which sparked the modern gay-rights movement.

Along the way, the film has been back a few times to Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as 20 film festivals (some gay, some mainstream), winning awards in the process: Audience Choice awards in Fort Worth, Cincinnati and Indianapolis; Best GLBT Film from the Breckenridge Festival of Film, the Platinum Reel Award from the Nevada International Film Festival and a host of others. In addition, it has been shown at special screenings for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the North District of Texas and at the request of the U.S. State Department.

Now, it’s latest local screening — and who knows, perhaps final — will be at UNT on the Square in Denton. Camina will be in attendance at the screening, which will take place Saturday, Feb. 9 at 4 p.m. on the campus of the university. You can get tickets at the festival’s website. ThinLineFilmFest.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

NY gay bar closed by health department

Julius on Waverly Place at 10th Ave in The Village

New York’s oldest (sort of) gay bar — Julius — was closed by the board of health this week. Julius is located one block up and one block over from the Stonewall Inn.

The bar opened in 1867. Not until 1966 was it officially a gay bar. But for years, gay men hung out at Julius, even though they were subject to constant harassment.

As Greenwich Village became more and more gay during the 1950s and ’60s, its gay residents hung out at this friendly neighborhood bar. People like Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote used to go to Julius.

Nearby Stonewall was not nearly as nice (or historic) as Julius and Stonewall was known more as a hangout for drag queens (and people like Dallas’ Phyllis Guest who was at Stonewall the night of the raid).

Owners of Julius resisted having the bar turn gay, so they enforced the New York State Liquor Authority rule that prevented bartenders from serving the disorderly. Homosexuals were included in the liquor authority’s definition of disorderly — which makes this a good place to insert that this is one of the first gay bars I ever hung out in after I came out in college and hung out in Greenwich Village in the early ’70s. I was probably attracted to this bar at the time because scenes from the film Boys in the Band — the only gay film out there at the time — were filmed at Julius.

In 1966, in a final attempt to keep gays out, Julius hung a sign after a police raid that said, “This is a raided premises.” The hope was that gays who were afraid of being arrested, exposed as gay and fired from their jobs would stay away.

The Mattachine Society had filed a lawsuit challenging the liquor authority’s rules, claiming a right to assemble. That was followed by an investigation by the city’s Human Rights Commission. Mattachine won its suit and sometime that year, Julius’ owner realized his clientele was gay, had been gay and the neighborhood was becoming more gay. It’s been a gay bar — officially — since then.

Owners said they plan to clean up the mouse and roach problem that caused the health department to close the place and, after a new inspection this week, be reopened by the weekend.

Big news for Dallas? Not at all. But when I saw a news item about Julius, it brought back memories of being a kid hanging out in the Village.

And many people think gay history— and gay people — began with Stonewall on June 28, 2008. We were actually around — and going to bars, protesting, organizing and living our lives — long before that.

—  David Taffet

Scenes from the Stonewall Inn — THIS June

This week 42 years ago, the Stonewall Inn was the crucible where the gay rights movement was ignited. But on Friday night — just before New York City Pride — it was a very different but raucous scene.

Ray Robert Lee, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, took these photos. He was meeting a friend for dinner in the West Village, and they decided to walk over to Sheridan Square and Christopher Street. At 10L31 p.m., as they hit the intersection where the Stonewall is, Lee’s iPhone flashed: The state senate had passed same-sex marriage.

“The streets erupted,” he says. “Christopher Street had been cordoned off and thousands were flocking and cheering and celebrating.”

The scene overwhelmed him, he says, filling him with pride over the diversity of the community and the historic moment he was a part of, but also remembering those friends who did not make it to this day.

Thanks to our friend, Dallas’ Gordon Markley, who put Lee in touch with us. More pics below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Before we was fab


40 YEARS OF GAY | ‘Stonewall Uprising,’ above, tracks the gay rights movement; ‘American Family,’ below, revisits the original reality TV series.

PBS gets its gay on (retro-style), revisiting Stonewall and the Louds

Watching documentaries like The Stonewall Uprising almost always make me feel anger more than Pride. At least at first. That’s because they wisely use old footage of news reports and instructional videos to let you know what the temperament of the nation was at the time. It’s easy to laugh at the outdated ideas about pot in Reefer Madness; it’s quite another to hear Mike Wallace explain how the concept of a “happy homosexual” is insane. After all, it’s a sickness that ruins lives. Like syphilis. “Homosexuals may appear normal” warns one cautionary narrator, but you shouldn’t be fooled.

It’s angering because we’re not talking about the Dark Ages, but America as recently as the mid-1960s. We still fight myths every day from the right, but it’s dispiriting knowing that, back then, this bigotry was mainstream.

But Pride does wind its way in during this doc, airing this week (and again in June) as part of the American Experience series on PBS, when the queers and queens finally fight back at the Stonewall Inn on a sweltering summer night in 1969. The resulting march — and movement — are still with us.

The filmmakers spend surprisingly little time on the actual uprising (there’s little photographic evidence of it). Rather, they lay the groundwork for the need for gay liberation, culling stories from actual witnesses to the riot (and, most unexpectedly, former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who has never been very open about being gay). Instead of simply explaining a moment in time, The Stonewall Uprising does something greater: It forces us to reevaluate what Pride is and why we still have, and still need, to march ever so often, and it reminds us how fragile our rights are, and how hard-fought they were by some very heroic gay people.

Less than five years after Stonewall, television had its first openly gay recurring character — and he wasn’t acting. When An American Family aired in 1973, it basically invented what we now call reality TV, following not attention hungry publicity whores like the Kardashians or the Hogans or the Gottis, but an upper middle class Southern California family named the Louds.

Lance Loud was only 20 and living the gay life in New York when the 12-part series first aired, showing Americans a world never seen on TV — and no doubt giving gays in middle America a belief, long before Dan Savage said it, that it does get better.

KERA World will rebroadcast the entire series in two marathons this weekend — something that hasn’t been done in 20 years. Like some of the news shows in The Stonewall Uprising, there are outmoded techniques and assumptions that make it look dated, but if you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to look past the fashions and the cheesy graphics and think instead about how some things haven’t changed (family is still awkward about gay stuff) and some things, mercifully, have.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

The Stonewall Uprising airs on Ch. 13 April 25 at 9 p.m.; An American Family airs on Ch. 13.2 April 24 and again April 25 from 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

—  John Wright

2 arrested in anti-gay beating at famed gay bar

JENNIFER PELTZ  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — A patron at the Stonewall Inn, a powerful symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was tackled to the floor and beaten in an anti-gay bias attack over the weekend, authorities said Monday, Oct. 4.

Two men were arrested in the early Sunday beating, which came little more than a day after a group of male friends bidding an affectionate good night to each other were attacked in another anti-gay assault elsewhere in Manhattan, prosecutors said.

The attacks came amid heightened attention to anti-gay bullying following a string of suicides attributed to it last month, including a New Jersey college student’s Sept. 22 plunge off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online.

But the attack prosecutors described at the Stonewall Inn especially galled and saddened gay rights advocates, some of whom wondered whether a place known for a defining moment in the history of gay rights might spur a new push for tolerance.

For the Stonewall’s owners, the episode was a sharp and upsetting contrast to its legacy.

“We at the Stonewall Inn are exceedingly troubled that hate crimes like this can and do still occur in this day and age. Obviously the impact of these men’s violent actions is even deeper given that it occurred on the premises of the Stonewall Inn,” an owner, Bill Morgan, wrote in an e-mail.

The victim was using a restroom at the Greenwich Village bar around 2 a.m. local time Sunday when a man at the next urinal, Matthew Francis, asked what kind of an establishment it was, prosecutors said. On being told it was a gay bar, Francis used an anti-gay slur and told the victim to get away from him, assistant district attorney Kiran Singh said.

“I don’t like gay people. Don’t pee next to me,” Francis added, according to the prosecutor.

Francis, 21, then demanded money, punched the victim in the face and continued beating him after a co-defendant blocked the door, tackled the victim and held him down, Singh said. The victim was treated at a hospital and was released, she said.

Francis said nothing at his arraignment Monday. A defense lawyer said that Francis wasn’t the aggressor and that the episode wasn’t motivated by bias.

“Mr. Francis is not a violent person. Nor did he try to rob anyone,” said the attorney, Angel Soto. “There may have been a fight, but it certainly wasn’t a hate crime.”

Francis was held on $10,000 bond. His co-defendant was awaiting arraignment.

Just before midnight Friday, Oct. 1 several male friends hugging and kissing each other good night in Manhattan’s gay-friendly Chelsea neighborhood were confronted by a group of more than five people who used an anti-gay epithet and told them to go home because “this is our neighborhood,” according to a court document filed by prosecutors. Two other men lashed out with fists as Andrew Jackson hurled a metal garbage can into one victim’s head, prosecutors said.

Jackson, 20, was arraigned over the weekend on hate crime assault and other charges. His lawyer, Anne Costanzo, declined to comment Monday.

The Stonewall Inn became a rallying point for gay rights in June 1969, when a police raid sparked an uprising in an era when gay men and women were often in the shadows. Stonewall patrons fought with officers, and several days of demonstrations followed, in an outpouring that became a formative moment in the gay rights movement.

“The riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day,” President Barack Obama said at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month reception at the White House in June 2009.

The Stonewall riots’ influence also is reflected in the names of some gay resource organizations, including student groups at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

For the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others, assaults like this weekend’s remain all too common problems. But the attack at the Stonewall Inn reverberates with a particularly disturbing resonance, executive director Sharon Stapel said.

“Even in a bar like the Stonewall Inn, which started a huge part of the gay rights movement — even the Stonewall Inn is not immune to this sort of violence, despite all of the work that they do to create a safe and tolerant atmosphere,” Stapel said. “It’s incredibly sad.”

But she said she hoped the incident and the atmosphere of concern about anti-gay harassment would spark new conversations about how to respond.

The Stonewall Inn has raised money for the Anti-Violence Project and other groups, and managers strive to make the bar inclusive, Morgan said.

“We do our best to run a nice, welcoming establishment where anyone can and should feel safe,” he said.

—  John Wright