The role of weather in the Stonewall uprising
I’m not sure if Hegel, the great (if hopelessly obscure) 19th century philosopher of history, had anything to say about it but the role of weather in great events can’t be discounted.
I write this as I suffer through one those unbearably hot, sticky nights in New York City. In late June, the city turns into a giant, 8.5-million-person oven. Like Washington, D.C., New York has become a great metropolis in spite of its weather.
Such a night of misery leads me to another late June night in 1969. By now, the events that transpired at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village, have been dissected by historians for every nuance of meaning.
Was it the counter-cultural ethos of the Village at the time? Was it LGBT Americans’ growing outrage at seeing progress among women, blacks and even Native-Americans, while they were left at the door? Was it misguided policies by New York’s bumbling mayoral administration? Was it growing frustration at police payoffs in gay bars? Was it even Judy Garland’s funeral, which took place earlier that day 75 blocks uptown?
It was all of those things and more. But, as David Carter, author of the comprehensive history on the subject, and others have pointed out, it was also a hot, sticky night.
Remember, this was a time when air conditioning was still considered something of a luxury. It wasn’t that long before that theaters were enticing people to watch a movie in a venue "air cooled for comfort." Yes, people would go the movies as much for the a.c. as the film itself. And then there’s Marilyn Monroe in the "Seven Year Itch," who puts up with Tom Ewell’s hamhanded attempts at seduction because he had air conditioning.
Yes, by the ’60s, a.c. was becoming more commonplace. But it was still a luxury - a luxury that hole-in-the-wall dives like Stonewall couldn’t afford - or didn’t want the added expense.
So when the police raided the bar, and the patrons said "Enough!" and they barricaded the doors and started three days of disturbances that electrified LGBT Americans, i suspect that the utter misery of trying to dance and have fun in the stifling atmosphere may have been the final spark.
Again, this is not to discount the larger issues of human liberation that were on the radar at the time. But if you don’t believe the weather wasn’t a major factor, I invite you to New York to experience the near-existential misery of early summer.
Hell, tonight I feel like starting a riot myself.