‘Stonewall Uprising:’ A journey through gay activism

A new documentary about the history of the gay rights movement premieres Monday night on PBS. “Stonewall Uprising” tells the story of the Stonewall Inn riot, where patrons at a Manhattan gay bar fought back against a police raid. That incident in 1969 is now regarded as the watershed moment for gay rights activism.

In the 1960s, Martin Boyce was still in his teens, but he was an activist. Just not for his own cause.

“I would volunteer in different groups–women and so forth–to do volunteer work for them, never thinking that I could do anything like this for myself,” he said.

Boyce didn’t consider what he called his “homosexual problem” to be cause-worthy. It was just his secret burden to bear.

But frustration was bubbling under the surface for many New Yorkers such as Boyce. Violence against gays was rampant. Known gay bars were raided regularly.

“It was just too much,” Boyce said. “It was just building up. Everybody knew or had a story or knew of a story in which someone’s life was really hurt, damaged by an incident. And I think the more stories and the more beads on the string–it just, the weight of it became too heavy. We had to do something. Just–scream! But we did more than that.”

Indeed. When police raided the Stonewall Inn–a known gay bar–on June 28, 1969, the patrons fought back. Boyce was there.

“It’s a kinetic thing in my mind,” he said. “It just twirls. The cacophony, the color, the excitement, the adrenaline, the surrealism of it all.”

Still, Boyce says, at the time it just felt like a regular riot. Not an earth-shattering thing that would change the landscape of gay rights. Which, it turned out, it was.

Something did click in Boyce, though. He became an activist for his own cause.

“Stonewall was really the point where I realized: We can do this for ourselves,” he said. “I was in college at the time, and I decided to make every term paper a gay subject no matter what subject.”

Now, continuing that activism, Boyce is featured in the documentary “Stonewall Uprising,” which chronicles the history of the gay rights movement.

“You know, I had to piece our history together,” he said. “I had to piece it together from reading Roman history, Greek history, or even following the plays of Tennessee Williams.”

Boyce says he doesn’t want any gay kids to have to do that anymore. Thanks to this film, he says, they won’t have to.

“Stonewall Uprising'” will air Monday at 9 p.m. on WHYY.

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