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Hey? Do you hear the camera? Quite the far and no sirens for the moment. Can you describe the village in New York City, the village area in the 1960s to do an impression of that particular era? I moved to Greenwich Village in 1956, so I'm a long-lived resident there. And I became the Democratic District Leader of the political club in the area having defeated
a major figure known as Carmine DeSapio, he's now deceased. And so I know the area very well and have lived there ever since, currently, at the first apartment house off and on if they have a new right off Washington Square Park. So I know the area very well. And the area changes year to year, but basically remains the same. It is a combination of middle-class people, primarily Jewish, on the major avenue and in the apartment houses, Italian south of the park primarily in the tenements, which are very expensive and very modern. And the artists and others who come to the village because they seek anonymity or social freedoms
which they think exist there and not elsewhere. And even though the area changes basically because the rents go up and people are unable to afford the place and therefore go to what they perceive to be the new villages, Chelsea and Soho. And then they become too expensive and then they go to Brooklyn. But basically the village in my judgment remains the same. Well, in the 60s, I think it really became famous for being an enclave for counterculture people and people who are... Yes, but I think those people are in parts still there. We're talking about whether the same people are there.
They move to cheaper places, but there's always a sufficient substantial group of the people I'm outlined to you. So if I had to say what's the difference? Louise was a very famous restaurant and bar in the 60s. And you could get a Ville-Pamajan that filled the whole plate for $1.75. The limelight, which was a lovely restaurant, you could get a three-course dinner for $1.80. In that way it's changed. Were there protesters, student protesters in the 60s there? Oh, sure, but there are protesters today. Once again, the village in my judgment maintains a special allure and the people who were there in the 60s in part are still there in the century that we're currently living in.
So now, how about the politics of the 60s, which in terms of gay rights is quite different than today? Well, I became the district leader, as I said, and defeated Carmine DeSapio, who was seeking a comeback. And the village independent Democrats, which is still an existence, were quite famous for taking on the establishment. And politics was more exciting than it is today. The reform movement was coming into its own and we were defeating the incumbent clubs. Today, politics is less exciting and less involving the street politics, which existed in those days.
I was the number one street speaker for the village independent Democrats. I actually took a chair and walked to different areas. Primarily, the 7th Avenue South Sheridan Square, and we talked to audiences of anywhere from 25 to 200 on occasion. So, I remember it fondly. Do you recall, since this film, as you know, is about the Stonewall riots, do you remember the gay bars? I remember very well. The gay bars were primarily owned by organized crime. And the cops were paid off by organized crime.
And some of them were public bars. Julius was a very famous one. Others were so-called phony private clubs where you paid an admission to get in. And the Stonewall has become famous. It was a so-called private club and it was frequented by gays and some lesbians and transvestites. It was really a mix. And there were people runaways, young boys, girls who slept in Sheridan Square Park or made it their headquarters. And that was directly across the street from the Stonewall. And they, those who were gay or lesbian, also frequented the Stonewall. And do you have a, let's see, during that time, oh, I know I wanted to ask you first before I go on.
When you said they're private clubs, so-called private clubs, why? What was going on? So as they didn't have a liquor license and they served liquor. And they were rated by the cops regularly and they were payoffs to the cops that was awful. There was no law that I'm familiar with which said that homosexuals and lesbians were to be barred from bars. And in effect, cops made their own law and they arrested them and they used their power to get bribes. Were the cops taking any orders from the government? If they were, I'm not familiar with it. But regrettably, the government, and remember, this was first under Wagner and then under Lindsay. And the Wagner administration was not friendly to the gays and lesbians.
The Lindsay administration professed to be, but in fact, the Stonewall incident took place in the second term of John Lindsay. So he didn't do what he should have done and I assailed him at the time for that. What do you think he should have done? What was... Well, what we have today, I'm very proud of the fact that when I became mayor in the first 30 days of my administration, I issued an executive order that the government could not discriminate against a government employees in employment, housing, education on the basis of sexual orientation. And then because that same executive order would have to be a law passed by the city council to apply to the private sector and because the then majority leader, Tom Cute, who was homophobic, would not allow a discussion or a bill to be voted on that would do that.
It took 10 years to get a comparable law passed that said that the private sector could not discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation. And it was difficult to get that law through. The reason we got it through was that a new majority leader, Peter Vellone, wanted support and I said I would only support him if he would allow a vote on that issue, not that he has to support it. I said to every member of the city council, Democrat and Republican, that if you're afraid to vote for this legislation, I tell you now, I will support you in your primaries and in your general election irrespective of your party affiliation if you cast a vote in favor of the legislation.
I think the law was voted on and is the law of the land that has been since 1986. What do you want me to do? In the 1960s, when there were some laws like the Masquerading Laws, were you familiar with that? Yes, I'm familiar with that. That is a law that was passed back in the years of the Civil War. It was not originally directed at Gays, but subsequently used by the police to arrest people who were cross-dressers, for example.
What was the name of that? Tell me what you're speaking about. The law that prevents people from using masks and other clothing to disguise themselves, and it was you, I think, now questioned wrongly by cops against Gays, lesbians who engaged in cross-dressing. What was the NYPD's policy in terms of the treatment of Gays and bars? Very bad. The policy of the cops was twofold. One, they seriously just did not want bar owners to serve Gays and harass them. And two, this was not policy of the administration at the time, but it was the policy of crooked cops to use the harassment to get bribes from bar owners who wanted to stay in business catering to Gays and lesbians.
That's why organized crime was involved because they had no hesitation in paying off cops, and so they owned so far as I know bars that catered to Gays and they owned the stone wall in this particular case. So then what was the purpose, was a raid intended, was just an exchange of money or was it intended to shut down the bars? I have no idea. I have no idea. So you weren't so involved in the raid? My involvement in this comes as a result of the fact that I was the congressman at the time, representing the village and therefore a very desirous of helping my constituents, some of whom were gay and lesbian and others who were not, who were offended by this discriminatory action on the part of the city.
Was there at some point a crackdown in the late 1960s? Well, there were crackdowns from time to time in terms of more raids than were customary in preparing for coming here. I did a little reading a long time ago, remember, back in June of 1969 is my recollection. And I read in one of the discussions that raids were made regularly once a month. So I guess if there's a crackdown, it's more than once a month. So you don't remember a period when I heard that the world's fair was coming and there was going to be a kind of a mayoral entity wanted to clean up the...
Because of the forthcoming world's fair. There were people who had no fear and were publicly gay, but the vast majority of gay people, lesbians and gay males, did not make that public and were very fearful of being disclosed as such because you could lose your job. You could lose your apartment. So it's understandable. And outrageous that that was the situation. It no longer is a situation, and it's a personal matter now whether someone wants to be publicly gay who is gay or not be. That's a personal choice, depending on their own circumstances.
But that back then, gay people received, I mean, the medical institutions and so on. Well, yes, there were medical institutions that said gay people were basically nuts, this deranged. Then that was broken by a psychiatric organization that said that there was no mental disability that flowed from being gay. How about the police procedure of entrapping gay people? Do you know about entrapping? Yes, entrapping did exist particularly in the subway system, in the bathrooms. Now the subways don't have bathrooms. But then they did. And the cops would hide behind the walls of the urinals. And if they saw some sexual activity, they would arrest those people. It was an outrage.
And that happened before Lindsey, but also during Lindsey. And I remember complaining on behalf of my constituents to Lindsey. And I do believe that that was stopped during the Lindsey administration. Was there more violence against gay people? Well, violence regrettably still exists against gay people currently, but far less today. And it is a specific violation of the law if you engage in such a crime, having such an animus with higher penalties. And what was your, if you remember, having any feelings at the time about the treatment of the raids of bars and the shutdowns? Well, of course, I was absolutely opposed to it, appalled by it. And took action, complaining to Lindsey and to the police when I was district leader. And then even more so as a member of Congress with even greater authority.
Because we found that, yes, what he was opposed to. As opposed sentence. Could you think about what you were opposed to? Of course, I was opposed to the harassment and discrimination against gays. And I had supported at the city council level. And the introduction of legislation that would protect them against discrimination. And when I became mayor, I put it into effect, regrettably we couldn't get it before that time it was opposed by the leadership in the city. That's number one. And then when I was a congressman, I remember with great pride that Bella Apsu, who was a congresswoman at the time representing the Upper West Side. She and I, and I think two other members of Congress.
Teddy Weiss was also from New York City. Introduce legislation on a federal level to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians regrettably that legislation never got too many sponsors. And it's not the law today. Well, in the 60s and we're talking about sort of leading up to the Stonewall riots, was there any protective measures that could have been installed, you know, legally too? Yes, of course, there could have been measures such as the measures that I introduced when I was mayor. But what had been hard for you to speak out then? Hard for who to speak out? I don't think so, although there's no question that there were people who would not vote for an individual who was supportive of gay rights.
And why is that? How are gays considered on the spectrum of humanity? Well, regrettably the history of gay rights is not a good one until modern area. And most countries today prohibit homosexual sex to take place. And harass people who are gay or lesbian in some cases, particularly Arab or Muslim countries, you face the death sentence if you engage in homosexual behavior. Certainly in parts of the United States, it leads to discrimination. There are, I don't know how many states, I think it's probably less than 20.
But more cities that permit gays and lesbians to engage in their lifestyles without sanction. But as I say, less than 20 states and the other states, it is still illegal. So, notwithstanding the fact that there's been an enormous change in the country and we now have, I think, two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut that permit same-sex marriage. You also have the state of California that once did and then had a referendum not long ago that rescinded the right of same-sex marriage. So this is not yet a country that is fair and non-discriminatory in the area of gay rights.
My son is 14. He's raised in the area of Harvey Frank, because he has some people talking about being openly gay all the time. How different was it in 1969 if you're explaining it to someone who doesn't know? People have forgotten how far we've come in terms of civil rights, there's a living in fear, because of arrest or registration. Well, gay rights, like the rights of blacks, were constantly under attack. And while blacks were protected by constitutional amendments coming out of a civil war, gays were not protected by law and certainly not the Constitution. That has changed, but not enough and has changed only in particular areas, San Francisco, the city and state of New York and other cities throughout the country, but not enough. And in the 60s, you had, well, beginnings of wins, liberation, blacks, you know, really coalescing and struggling to protest and other groups as well.
Not really. Do you remember any indication that gay people were forming? The desire of gays to protest and stand up, I think most people would say, started with the Stonewall uprising. And as a result of the resistance shown to the corrupt cops who invaded the Stonewall and were arresting people and the people who fought back were cross-section of gay life, transvestites and gay males, lesbians. They fought back, actually. And then crowds formed outside, which involved not only gays, it was in the village area, Christopher Street, which is a major gay area, but also people who were straight, who were fronted by what was taking place in that anger continued for several days.
Where people would come back in the course of the day and the night and stand in front of the Stonewall. And it was covered by papers like the village voice and other papers. But what is interesting is that from that incident, a year later, the first gay rights parade occurred. And that parade now, which has existed every year since then, since 1970. And earlier on was on a lesser avenue, is now on Fifth Avenue, that occurred during my administration, that they were allowed to go to Fifth Avenue.
Not every parade is allowed, it was the major parades. And it is one of the biggest parades in the city. And I think people love it in a way. It goes down from Central Park and goes across. I think they've changed a little bit to A Street. They make a special effort to have a group go over to the Stonewall and pay their respects to the Stonewall. It's totally different today. It was in 1969. When would people completely clog the decision to couldn't imagine? Well, I will tell you the mayor's march in the gay rights parade. I marched in the gay rights parade. I remember the current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He called me up and asked me, this was long after I'd been mayor, no longer mayor. If I would march with her in the gay rights parade, she was running for office. I said sure.
That's a sign of the dimes. Could you, if you catapult yourself back, and Bonnie Frank came and marched with Hillary and myself and others in her entourage? And could you ever imagine that if you think of life in 1965, could you imagine? No, of course not. Nevertheless, I had no doubt that ultimately gay rights would be recognized and I was privileged and proud to be the first mayor to put that in an executive order and to get it through the City Council. I'm very proud of it. What do you think Stonewall, what does Stonewall mean to you then?
Well, Stonewall, I read somewhere and I thought it was a very good description. It's sort of like Rosa Parks for black rights. Rosa Parks said I'm not going to take it anymore and she said she would not be segregated on the bus and she sat down on a seat that was held for a white passenger. And what the gays and lesbians and transvestites at Stonewall did when the cops came in corrupt and seeking to arrest them and bar them from doing what they were doing which was drinking and a private club and dancing. And using the club or bar as heterosexuals were doing throughout the City and other similar arrangements, they were like Rosa Parks. They said we're not going to take it anymore. And they fought back and it was a great citizen revolution.
Do you remember hearing about it? Well, I was not there. But the next day it was covered by the press and I knew people who were involved who sought me out as congressmen and form a district leader and a leader of the village. And so yes, I was told what happened and I was outraged by the Lindsey administration being primarily responsible. It was their cops who did it. But it changed. I mean the pressures on Lindsey were such that things started to change the harassment. But even he was not able to or didn't lead a fight to legitimize the rights of a gays and I'm proud of the fact that I did and was successful. Do you remember reading? Do you have to change tape? Wonderful.
American Experience
Stonewall Uprising
Raw Footage
Interview with Edward Koch, 1 of 2
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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Episode Description
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. Such raids were not unusual in the late 1960s, an era when homosexual sex was illegal in every state but Illinois. That night, however, the street erupted into violent protests and street demonstrations that lasted for the next six days. The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.
Raw Footage Description
This footage consists of an interview with Edward Koch, Mayor of New York City from 1978-1989.
Copyright 2011 WGBH Educational Foundation
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Interviewee: Koch, Ed, 1924-2013
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
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Identifier: 022 (WGBH Item ID)
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Chicago: “American Experience; Stonewall Uprising; Interview with Edward Koch, 1 of 2,” 2011-00-00, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2024,
MLA: “American Experience; Stonewall Uprising; Interview with Edward Koch, 1 of 2.” 2011-00-00. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 20, 2024. <>.
APA: American Experience; Stonewall Uprising; Interview with Edward Koch, 1 of 2. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from