Gay at Woodstock: What Happened 50 Years Ago
With the 50th anniversary of Woodstock approaching, now is a good opportunity to remind ourselves that sharing and celebrating the brave and criminal stories of the Stonewall Riots is a whole lot more important than playing another Jerry Garcia tune.
The Stonewall Riots were just a few weeks before Woodstock
Fifty years ago this week, riots broke out when police raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, NYC, a Mafia-owned bar popular with gay and lesbian customers. In those days, organized crime families owned bars catering to gay customers because they made money two ways – serving drinks and blackmailing customers.
In the 60’s, organized crime families in NYC owned gay bars because they made money both ways – serving drinks and blackmailing customers.
Let’s remember, before 1980 same sex sexual activity was illegal in New York State. “Fat Tony” Lauria of the Genovese crime family purchased the Stonewall Inn in 1966 and turned it into a gay bar. His crime family bribed the NYC police department to stay away from their gay bars and not threaten their customers. For many years he made more money blackmailing customers than he did selling beer – by photographing and threatening to publish the names of frequent clientele (especially the rich Wall Street executives).
Let’s also remember that until 2003 it was LEGAL in New York State to discriminate on the basis of “actual or perceived sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and exercise of civil rights.” That means that in those days it was perfectly legal not to hire a teacher because someone though they “looked gay.” Insane.
The Uproarious, Uncensored Story of Woodstock, the Gay Man Who Made It Happen
So what does any of that have to do with Woodstock? To find out, all we have to do is watch Taking Woodstock, the 2009 film by Ang Lee based on the book by Elliot Tibor. I never got a chance to meet Elliot (who died in 2016), but everyone who knew him has told me he was “a character.”
As Elliot tells the story, he is the guy who had the permit that allowed Woodstock ‘69 to happen in Bethel, NY (after authorities revoked permission to hold Woodstock in Wallkill, NY). Elliot was the president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce and his parents owned the nearby El Monaco Motel. Elliot had already secured a permit to hold a “White Lake Music and Arts Festival” that was going to include the Earthlight Theater troupe which was rehearsing in a barn on the grounds of the El Monaco.
All of that aside, Elliot was living a closeted life as a homosexual commuting between homes in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and the Catskills. As he tells the story in his 1994 book, Knock on Woodstock: The Uproarious, Uncensored Story of Woodstock, the Gay Man Who Made It Happen, and How He Earned his Ticket to Free, Elliott was at the Stonewall riots in June 1969 and he brought that activism with him back to the Catskills that summer.
Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people
All this brings us to The Trevor Project, the Coolest Charity In The World This Week (and definitely one of the coolest charities in the world every week). Trevor Project is the largest national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people under the age of 25. Their extraordinary work is saving lives and empowering young people to find peace and love within their own hearts, their families, and communities.