Forty years ago this weekend, while the nation was mourning the death of singer Judy Garland, New York City police raided a gay bar in the West Villiage, The Stonewall Inn. Raids on the bar had happened before but this time gay men, drag queens and a few women fought back. It turned into a six-day rebellion that sparked the modern gay-rights movement.
David Bermudez was there that night. He was 26 years old and joins The Takeaway to talk about those raids. Also joining us is 26-year-old Jason Haas, a civil rights leader in the LGBT community.
"Cops would come in and harass us and push us around and put us in paddy wagons, and use us as pawns. Our crime was just that we were gay."
— David Bermudez remembering Stonewall
Judy Garland Singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow [on tape]
Katherine Lanpher: 40 years ago this weekend we were mourning the death of a very
different icon — Judy Garland — which led to another news story. They were
denizens of a West Village gay bar, who were mourning when New York City police raided the
Stonewall Inn. Raids on the bar had happened before, but this time it was different. Gay men,
drag queens, a few women, fought back. It turned into a six day rebellion that sparked the
modern civil rights movement for the gay community. We have David Bermudez here, he was there
that night, he was 26 years old and now he's joining us from northeastern Massachusetts. We
also have with us 26-year-old Jason Haas, a civil rights leader in the
lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community. He's here with me in the studio. David, you
heard Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow, now tell me did that bring you back at
Dave Bermudez: Oh. It brings me lots and lots of memories. She was a wonderful
entertainer. She was an icon to us, as Michael is to all the young people today. And when
that song plays I get extremely emotional.
Katherine Lanpher: Well let me take you back to, whether or not that song was playing,
you were mourning Judy Garland that night at the Stonewall Inn. Give us a quick picture of
what happened that night.
Dave Bermudez: Well, a couple of friends of mine, we went to the Stonewall bar in
Greenwich Village, you know, to celebrate her life. And we got to the bar and while we were
in the bar, you know we used to have raids in the 60s. Cops would come in and harass us and
push us around and put us in paddywagons and use us as pawns.
Katherine Lanpher: And what was your crime, essentially?
Dave Bermudez: Our crime was just that we were gay.
Katherine Lanpher: So there you are, it's just another raid like it is any other
night. What was different that night? What happened?
Dave Bermudez: That night was different because, you see, when we were raided we never
fought back. Never ever fought back. And that night I feel that because of Judy Garland's
death and all that we just had it. Enough was enough. When the cops started hitting us and
harassing us and putting us in paddywagons and all, we just went ahead and fought back, and
started hitting back.
Katherine Lanpher: Jason Haas, I want to turn to you. Here you are a civil rights'
activist hearing someone talk about a time when, well you just never fought back. Talk about
the legacy of Stonewall and how things have changed.
Jason Haas: Well, I thank you to David for being the first guard in the modern civil
rights movement, the modern LGBT right movement. I've been fighting, I guess, ever since I
was young. I came out very young, and was able to do so much because of the generations that
came before me: the gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people who fought back. I
came out when I was 13, I believe, in a public school in Boston that was anything but
accepting and safe for LGBT students or students perceived as such.
Katherine Lanpher: I think we have here a wonderful example of the difference between
the generations because, David, the idea of even coming out in Junior High or High School?
Dave Bermudez: No, I was coming out after a divorce.
Katherine Lanpher: So that's just one example. So I'm wondering what generation gap is
there between the different generations. The Stonewall generation and now someone who can
identify himself as an activist with the LGBT community. Jason? What distance do you see?
Jason Haas: In the last fourty years we've come a long way. In the media and in
society's perception of gay and lesbian folks and, maybe to a lesser extent, the
transgendered community but I think, other than that time, a lot has happened in that time.
During the 80's there's the HIV AIDS crisis, especially here in New York City. And then in
the 90s we had a major setback of DOMA, you know, the Defense of Marriage Act, and all the
while we were fighting for hate crime legislation, federal hate crime legislation that's
fully inclusive, and that fight still continues today. So other than having time, that forty
years time, I think we are still very much fighting for the same thing and that's basic human
rights and basic civil rights for the LGBT folks.
Katherine Lanpher: And David, how do you commemorate this weekend? How far do you
think people have come?
Dave Bermudez: To be honest with you, the Cape Cod Community College, I talked about
Stonewall about 6 months ago to a group of students, expecting about 20 students and over 225
students showed up and it was fantastic. They wanted to know everything that was going on.
They were in awe when I was telling them about being beat up and and I think there's a very
big difference between how the young people think and what they want to learn. They really,
really want to learn.
Jason Haas: And we still have so many problems facing our schools and there's
legislation that is yet to be passed in many states. Basically doing away with name calling
and bullying based on perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity.
Katherine Lanpher: Gentlemen, I'm going to thank you both for joining us. That's Jason
Haas, civil rights activist, member of the LGBT community and David Bermudez, Stonewall
Dave Bermudez: And Happy Gay Pride Month!
CORRECTED: We originally mentioned Jason Haas' age as 29; at this writing he is actually 26.
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.