Historian Hugh Ryan's New Book Documents the Queer History of BrooklynHistorians in the News
tags: New York, Brooklyn, queer history, Hugh Ryan, LGBTQ
Hugh Ryan is the author of the forthcoming book When Brooklyn Was Queer (St. Martin’s Press, March 2019), and co-curator of the upcoming exhibition On the (Queer) Waterfront at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
In 1969 — the year of the Stonewall Riots in New York City — Martin Boyce was just 21 years old, part of a pack of young, loud, unapologetic queens who hung out at the Stonewall Inn. The surrounding streets of the West Village were their stomping ground, the one area of the city they could lay claim to. Today, nearly a half century later, Boyce is telling me about those days as we sip cappuccinos and watch those same streets teem with affluent locals out for a walk on the first nice day of spring.
“The late sixties was the last hurrah of the turf situation in New York City,” he says, his fluting voice now gravelly with age. “And it turned out that Christopher Street was ourturf. We didn’t even know until the riot occurred and we had to defend it.”
Boyce is voluble and sweet, making his tales of assaults, arrests, and constant, casual harassment all the harder to hear. For every block he recalls another beating, for every neighborhood another gang. He tells me how queers learned to survive, and how that hard-won knowledge, which was literally beaten into his bones, made the Stonewall Riots possible.
“Anywhere you’d go, you’d have to be ready,” he recalls with a sigh. “I was attacked in the Bronx, attacked in Brooklyn. Go to the movies? You’d be attacked. But whatever happened, we’d manage to meet up again, right in the vicinity and safe. That made us excellent urban guerrillas, because we knew how to break and reform. That kept the Stonewall Riots going for hours.”
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