This article examines why the Stonewall riots became central to gay collective memory while other events did not. It does so through a comparative-historical analysis of Stonewall and four events similar to it that occurred in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York in the 1960s. The Stonewall riots were remembered because they were the first to meet two conditions: activists considered the event commemorable and had the mnemonic capacity to create a commemorative vehicle. That this conjuncture occurred in New York in 1969, and not earlier or elsewhere, was a result of complex political developments that converged in this time and place. The success of the national commemorative ritual planned by New York activists depended on its resonance, not only in New York but also in other U.S. cities. Gay community members found Stonewall commemorable and the proposed parade an appealing form for commemoration. The parade was amenable to institutionalization, leading it to survive over time and spread around the world. The Stonewall story is thus an achievement of gay liberation rather than an account of its origins.
Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University
Release date: 01/01/1992