Before Stonewall

Title: Before Stonewall
Executive Producer: John Scagliotti
Director: Greta Schiller
Studio: First Run Features
Year: 2004 on DVD
Available: and

Many people think the gay rights movement started with the Stonewall riots in 1969. Stonewall did not take place in a political and social vacuum. There were gradual and important societal changes before that eventful day. For example, an individual interviewed in the video mentions that there were 500 novels published between 1875 and 1940 that had lesbian content. The number of novels published with gay male content was estimated to be about five times higher. This documentary looks other social changes, and at gay American life before 1969.

Some people groan just thinking about a historical documentary. They picture a very boring video, filled with dates and facts. Before Stonewall is not a boring historical video. This reviewer found the documentary interesting enough that he watched the video twice, back-to-back. There is historic some film footage. While Before Stonewall contains some facts and dates, the video gives us glimpses in a gay and lesbian life before 1969 through short video stories told by those who were gay Americans living in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

At one time, wearing a red tie was very brave. Men who wore a red tie might be gay. Another signal that a person might be gay was a tie and a handkerchief that were of matching color. World War Two caused a change in social attitudes. For example, one person interviewed felt lesbians who had valuable skills were tolerated during the war. Unfortunately, the Cold War era and McCarthyism erased some of the gains made during World War Two. McCarthyism resulted in a witch-hunt for communists, and gay people. The American civil rights era helped to encourage the young gay rights movement. Some of the people who helped found the first gay and lesbian organizations in the United States are interviewed.

This film should be seen by all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified youth. Through the film, queer youth can gain some sense of connection to their historical roots. Some leaders of the early American gay rights movement are interviewed. Their interviews could be of interest to contemporary young queer rights activists.