Andrew Sullivan: ‘What Drives Me Crazy Is the Attempt to Erase All Gay and Lesbian Activism Before Stonewall’

By (Tim Teeman)
Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast / Photos Getty

In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.

Andrew Sullivan

Author, editor, writer-at-large New York magazine

When/how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of it?

I really can't remember. 

What is their significance for you?

It's the moment when gay men’s self-esteem finally overcame their fear in the major urban centers. Trans and drag queens were involved too. It was also a moment when the new left took over gay rights from more mainstream figures in the 1950s and 1960s.

What drives me crazy about it is the attempt to erase all gay and lesbian activism before Stonewall. It was very significant, much less confrontational, and in some ways, more dangerous, especially during the Lavender Scare. I’m thinking of Frank Kameny, for example, who was, among others, demonstrating as an out gay man in front of the White House long before Stonewall. I think of the writers of the Mattachine Review

Stonewall is obviously important but can also be over-hyped. It was an eruption, but followed decades of gradual emergence, and as a force for actual change it was surpassed by the AIDS epidemic and the marriage equality movement. 

Stonewall was a mass psychological breakthrough in the big cities, but in my view it derailed much of the previous movement’s arguments, and real progress only came when the gay rights movement moved toward the center in the 1990s and 2000s. 

How far have LGBT people come since 1969?

Far far further than any of us dreamed at the time.

What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?

I'd like to see us get on with our lives, take yes for an answer, and make the L and the G and the T non-issues. 

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