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Martin Sherman: A Hot Night in June

"I had stumbled across history"

Playwright Martin Sherman remembers the Stonewall rebellion in a piece written, he recalls, for Sir Ian McKellen's one-man show, "A Knight Out," which opened at the Theatre Royal on November 13, 1994. It is published for the first time on OutHistory.org with the permission of Martin Sherman.

A hot night in June. New York, 1969. I was walking up Seventh Avenue with a friend, discussing the imminent end of the decade. I was a hippy, or, at least hippy-like. I didn’t think the sixties would end.

We crossed Christopher Street and saw a crowd in front of the <SW>, a popular village gay bar. Policemen were tossing drag queens into a van! The queens were feisty and angry and funny. Well – it was hot and Judy Garland had just died and there was a lot of emotion in the air and those days every day had some kind of street theatre. I wasn’t fond of the Stonewall. It seemed to belong to decades past and Janis Joplin had replaced Judy Garland for me.

A friend of mine, an actress named Jonelle Allen, walked by. Jonelle watched the commotion for awhile and then decided to go home. She tried to hail a cab. Empty taxis passed her by. Jonelle was black and they did not want to chance a fare to Harlem. I hid Jonelle behind a car, hailed a taxi and, when it stopped, rushed her inside. Walking home, I pondered how little had been achieved in the civil rights movement if someone like Jonelle still could not get a taxi.

Jonelle and the taxi are my prevailing image of that evening. It was later – much later – that I realized that I had witnessed the birth of another movement, one that would color my life and that of every lesbian and gay man from that moment on. There had been a raid and queens had fought back. Fought back! I was there – but I wasn’t. I had seen it – but I hadn’t. I had stumbled across history. And I did not know it.

Copyright (c) by Martin Sherman 2009. All rights reserved.

The Author

Martin Sherman is bast known for his play Bent, which was nominated for a Tony award in 1980, and dealt with the treatment of homosexuals by the Nazis in Germany during World War II. He also wrote the book for the musical The Boy from Oz, based on Peter Allen's life and career, earning Sherman a second Tony nomination.