Accidental history, important lessons

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Posted by Andy Bell

Seymour Pine.  As american names go it’s pretty plain. 

It suggests a bespectacled, solid fellow with a pipe sticking firmly from his sturdy mouth.

Or perhaps a social studies teacher with a penchant for part-time music making: Seymour Pine & His Rhythm Chums ???

If only life was that simple. 

Seymour was the New York police officer who stumbled into our world and contributed to a major moment in shaping us.


His death the age of 91 now offers the chance to recall Seymour’s unlikely place in queer history and ponder a little.

Seymour in charge of the raid on the Stonewall Inn, the bar whose name stands squarely at the heart of the GLBTI experience of the last four decades .

Heavy handed, ill humoured  police operations like the one on June 28th 1969 were nothing out of the ordinary.  

Police raided gay bars on a regular basis all in the name of cracking down on prostitution and organised-crime. 

And as if by magic, a side effect of such raids was the arrest of scores of men and women who lived in fear of blackmail and more.

One minute you were sipping a Martini and delivering a zinger about the Nixon administration, the next minute a bunch of wallopers were dragging you into the paddy-wagons.

What elevated the Stonewall raid was that those Martini (and Coors) quaffers stood up and said “no more”. 

And that meant, for good or ill, suddenly Seymour.

Inspector Pine found himself in uncharted waters and those waters turned hellish stormy.  He had a riot on his hands.

Things would never be the same again, and for that we must thank Seymour as well as the drag queens !  It takes two to tango.

As luck would have it Mr Pine was a man who came to understand his role in history and who grew, albeit slowly,  from the experience. 

35 years after the event he apologised for his role in the “riot”.

Stonewall was a necessary event. 

It changed things. 

Seymour may have been less than smart in the way he dealt with the situation, but he was coping with an unusual event.

Fear was overwhelmed by fight, and the establishment as represented by Seymour Pine didn’t know what to do.

Poofs, dykes and their friends stood up for themselves and boys in blue struggled to cope.

Those trailblazers, as accidental as Seymour, said enough was enough and they took it to the streets.

And, my friends, that’s where important battles are won still, even in this socially networking age.

The click of a mouse  to show “support” to some campaign or other is one thing and only one thing.

It is the click of a mouse.

No more, no less.

It pales in comparison to a bunch of people who are willing to put themselves at risk.

The “barricades’ must be actual as well as digital !

History, as Seymour Pine came to understand, teaches us that.


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