San Diego Man Shares Memories Of Stonewall
This is the 50th anniversary of the riots at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, an event that supercharged what was then a nascent gay rights movement.
A San Diego man who was there shared his memories with KPBS.
The riots at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village started late on a Friday evening, June 28th, 1969. Within a couple of hours, Joe Narvid’s phone was ringing.
"Early, early in the morning—I’m talking like 4 am—from friends telling us that there was a riot down in Greenwich Village on Christopher Street and that we should get down there. So we did," Narvid said.
Once Narvid got on the scene, the evidence of what had gone down a short time before was obvious.
"All I remember seeing was fire because one of the police cars right smack across the street was set on fire and was burning, so that was already a sign of seriousness for us," Narvid recalled.
Raids on gay bars, though they weren’t called gay bars back then, were common. When asked why the Stonewall patrons reached the end of their rope that night, Narvid said it was primarily due to the drag queens who’d had enough.
"That particular night, the police were extremely physically brutal to them because one of them talked back and the other one yelled and then they started hitting them, and that’s when it turned into a real riot," he said.
Those riots continued for the next 3-days. When things settled down, Narvid said community organizing picked up.
"We found out about meetings that were being called, sort of to start a formation of doing something about what’s going on."
Joe Narvid remembered that life for gay men back then was difficult, to say the least.
"We were criminals, we were evil. We were defined as crimes. We could be arrested at any given point."
Narvid said things were even worse for drag queens. He said that’s why they took the lead on that fateful night.
"It took the drag queens to do it because why not? They had nothing to lose. They weren’t gonna get any worse treatment. They were already getting the worse treatment they could get, so why not, why not stand up for yourself and they did."
In 1975, Joe Narvid picked up and moved west to San Francisco where, within a few years, he would find himself in the middle of another watershed moment for the gay movement.
While studying for his doctorate, Narvid worked as an intern for Harvey Milk.
"He set up a committee of which I was one of 8 or 10 people who were on the committee to form a program that would service the gay and lesbian and trans community with mental health services," Narvid recalled.
His primary memory of Milk stems from a meeting where he and a colleague suggested opening a group home for runaway LGBT youth. Milk’s sharp political instincts swung into action and he shot down the idea.
"They’ll shut us down in a minute. They’ll say we’re recruiting young people to be homosexuals. He was right. That’s where Harvey was brighter than a lot of us at that time," Narvid said.
All these years later, it’s still tough for the 77-year old to talk about the tragedy that unfolded on November 27, 1978, the day Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were gunned down in City Hall.
Narvid recalled the scene after the assassinations.
"Market street was mobbed all the way down to city hall with candles burning and Joan Baez was there with her singing."
Joe Narvid is still working. He’s a clinician at San Diego’s Naval Medical Center. As much progress as the movement for equal rights has made, Narvid is concerned, specifically for transgender members of the military.
"What just happened to the transgender sailors and Marines and soldiers should not have happened and could not have happened I believe 5 years ago," he said.
On the eve of San Diego’s Pride celebrations, Narvid had some advice for younger members of the LGBTQ community. He said the fight for equal rights is far from over.
"I don’t want to say be scared, I want to say be cautious."
Advice for today from someone who was there back then.