Raymond Castro Interviewed by Jonathan Ned Katz: June 16, 2009
“I didn’t know I was going to be part of history”
Jonathan Ned Katz writes:
On June 16, 2009, I phoned Raymond Castro to ask if the newly discovered names of his fellow Stonewall arrestees, Marilyn Fowler, Vincent DePaul, Wolfgang Podolski, and Thomas Staton, rang any bells with him. They didn’t, unfortunately. Castro did recall that the woman with whom he was arrested was slim, about 5 feet, 4 inches tall, had short black hair, and was "not really feminine or masculine." He remembered paying his lawyer to defend her, as well as himself.
Asked if he remembers anything about the others in the paddy wagon with him, Castro answered: "The three managers of the bar, Italians, Mafia (Tony Soprano-like, is the only way to describe them). One of the Mafia guys said to me, 'don't worry kid, you're ok in our book, nothing is going to happen to you'."
Castro also recalled being locked up and held overnight in jail, and then going to weekend court, probably on Sunday, June 29th, 1969. His lawyer had his hearing postponed, he remembers, so that his case would be heard by a more sympathetic judge. At his hearing, urged by the police to plead guilty and be pardoned, Castro recalled pleading “not guilty,” complaining that officers had pushed him, and that when arrested he hadn’t been read his rights.
“I didn’t know I was going to be part of history,” said Castro, musing about his arrest 40 years after the Stonewall rebellion.
Photo right: Raymond Castro, about 1969.
“I’m not a radical, but I always had a feeling for the underdog,” said Castro. Having escaped the Stonewall after the raid, he recalled going back in to the bar to give identification to a young fellow of his acquaintance who looked scared and who, Castro surmised, lacked ID. Castro then couldn’t get out of the Stonewall: “The police kept me there, they held us hostage,” he recalls. Later, when several police officers tried to place him in the paddy wagon, Castro put up an intense fight, but was subdued and driven off. Castro recalls an officer commenting on his fierce struggle with several policemen: “You must be some kind of animal!”
Castro, Puerto Rican in origin, studied baking at the Food Trades Vocational High School that once occupied the building that now houses New York’s gay community center on 13th Street. After graduating, he got a scholarship that paid for his bakers’ union membership, and started working at Ebinger’s, in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He then moved to Selden, L.I., and worked at Entenmann’s Bakery for 17 years, later at Publix Bakery. In a Long Island disco named “The Hot Line” Castro met his long-time partner, Frank Sturniolo, when “Frank was almost 18 (17 plus 11 months).” On February 18, 2009, Castro, 67, and Sturniolo, 49, celebrated 30 years together. They live happily on an island near Tampa, Florida.
Photo right: Raymond Castro, late 1960s
Castro is a fighter. Several years ago, told that he had inoperable stomach cancer, and had five months to live, Castro, determined not to give up, went for a second opinion, then a third, and began treatment. On the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, he’s still around and glad to tell his story.
Asked about changes in gay life since his arrest at the Stonewall, Castro said: “We’ve come a long way, but we still have far to go."
Left: Raymond Castro and Frank Sturniolo, 1999. Right: Raymond Castro, 2009