Stonewall riots remembered

A rebel looks back on the uprising that helped start the gay-rights movement.

NEW YORK - Raymond Castro was a regular at the Stonewall Inn in 1969, finding it a haven from a world where gay men and women could be arrested for kissing or holding hands in public. Inside the bar, where plywood covered the windows, warning lights served as a signal for couples to stop dancing.

When police raided the bar in the past for selling liquor without a license, patrons normally submitted to arrest or dispersed quietly. But on June 28, Castro recalled, people fought back.

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Raymond Castro, shown in a '60s photo, figures in NYPD reports of the 1969 riots newly released.

As officers tried to throw him into a police wagon, Castro used the vehicle as a spring to push back, knocking them to the ground.

"They literally carried me into the . . . wagon and threw me in there," recalled Castro, now 67. "It must've been the motivation of the crowd that inspired me to resist. Or maybe at that point enough was enough."

The several days of disturbances that followed the uprising at the bar in Greenwich Village became one of the defining moments of the gay-rights movement.

Thousands of people are converging on the city for gay-pride events to mark the riots' 40th anniversary, while a bill is pending in the legislature to make New York the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Castro said the demonstrations became a catalyst for years of progress allowing gays and lesbians to live more open lives - although he didn't see it at the time.

"I never thought 40 years ago that it would turn out to be much of anything," he said in a phone interview. "I had no clue of history being made."

Castro, who now lives in Madeira Beach, Fla., outside St. Petersburg, is far removed from Stonewall. But his name surfaced in newly released NYPD police reports documenting arrests during the riots. The reports had previously redacted names of some arrested on the first night, but were obtained in May under the Freedom of Information Law by OutHistory.Org, a Web site run by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York.

Another name that appears in police reports for the first time is that of Marilyn Fowler, confirming earlier accounts that a woman was one of the main instigators of initial resistance to police.

"There are many witnesses to the Stonewall riots who say a woman, a lesbian presumably, played an important role in intensifying the resistance when they tried to arrest her and put her in the wagon," said Jonathan Ned Katz, the Web site's director, who recently obtained the documents. "It's a very important name to be discovered."

And for Castro, the name refutes other long-held beliefs that the demonstrators were all white gay men.

"It wasn't just gays," said Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico and left in 1945. "It wasn't just white gays.

"You had straight people sympathetic to gays. People of the arts. You had people who had had enough [of the police]. You had Latinos, you had blacks, you had whites, Chinese, you had everything. It was a melting pot. "

It was hot and humid the night police officers raided the inn for selling liquor without a license. Police estimated 200 patrons were thrown out of Stonewall, according to a June 29, 1969, New York Times article.

After the raid, the crowd outside the Stonewall swelled to about 400, according to the Times account, citing police estimates.

Four police officers were injured, including one with a broken wrist, according to the Times, which described the scene as a "rampage" by hundreds of young men. Thirteen people were arrested that first night on charges including harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, the story says.

There are little reminders of Stonewall in Manhattan's Greenwich Village today. The building was designated a national landmark in 1999, and currently houses a bar unaffiliated with the inn.

In 1972 Castro left New York for Long Island, where he met his partner of 30 years, Frank Sturniolo, in a disco. By 1989, the couple had settled in Florida, said Castro, who retired from his job as a decorator in an Entenmann's bakery specialty shop.

Castro, who is battling stomach cancer, marveled at the progress for gay rights over the last four decades.

Still, he and other gay-rights advocates say, there's more work to be done. For example, the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy remains in place. So does a federal law allowing states to ban or refuse recognition of same-sex marriages.