elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Craig Rodwell (October 31, 1940 - June 18, 1993)

Craig L. Rodwell (October 31, 1940 – June 18, 1993) was an American gay rights activist known for founding the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop on November 24, 1967, the first bookstore devoted to gay and lesbian authors and as the prime mover for the creation of the New York City pride demonstration. Rodwell is considered by some to be quite possibly the leading gay rights activist in the early homophile movement of the 1960s.

Rodwell was born in Chicago, IL. His parents divorced prior to his first birthday and for the next few years he was boarded out for day care where he was required to do kitchen labor and laundry to supplement his board and care. When he was 6 years old, Rodwell's mother, Marion Kastman, fearing that the child care set up could cause her to lose custody of her son, arranged for his admission to the Christian Scientist affiliated Chicago Junior School (later called the Fox River Country day School) for "problem" boys, in Elgin, IL. Conditions and treatment at the school were described as "Dickensian" and Rodwell got a reputation for being a rebellious child, as well as a "sissy," during his seven years there. It was at Chicago Junior School that Rodwell first experienced same-sex relationships and also came to internalize the Christian Scientist notion that "truth is power and that truth is the greatest good."

After graduating from the Chicago Junior School, Rodwell attended Sullivan High School in Chicago, IL. Rodwell continued his studies in Christian Science by enrolling in Sunday school at the 16th Church of Christ, Scientist. He later studied ballet in Boston before finally moving to New York City in 1958. It was in New York that he first volunteered for a gay rights organization, The Mattachine Society of New York.

In 1962, Rodwell had an affair with Harvey Milk, who went on later to become one of the first openly gay politicians elected to high office. It was Rodwell's first serious relationship. Rodwell's relationship with Milk ended in part due to Milk's conflicted reaction to Rodwell's early activism and his introduction to Milk of "strange new ideas that tied homosexuality to politics, ideas that both repelled and attracted the thirty-two-year-old Milk." Milk believed that Rodwell had been responsible for Milk contracting an STD. After Rodwell's arrest and incarceration when picked up cruising in Washington Square Park, Milk ended their romantic involvement. Shortly after, Rodwell attempted suicide.

When Rodwell opened the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in 1967, Milk dropped by frequently, and after moving to San Francisco Milk expressed his intention to Rodwell of opening a similar store "as a way of getting involved in community work." Milk eventually opened a camera store that also functioned as a community center, much like Rodwell's bookshop had as a community gathering place.

Also in 1967, Rodwell began the group Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods (HYMN) and began to publish its periodical, HYMNAL. Rodwell conceived of the first yearly gay rights protest, the Annual Reminder picketing of Independence Hall held from 1965–1969; Homophile Youth Movement rallies in 1967, and was present at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. He was active in the Mattachine Society until April 1966 and in several other early homophile rights organizations.

In early 1964 Rodwell, a Mattachine Society of New York volunteer, organized Mattachine Young Adults and was also an early member of East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) and the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO).

On September 19, 1964, Rodwell, along with Randy Wicker, Jefferson Poland, Renee Cafiero, and several others picketed New York's Whitehall to protest the military's practice of excluding gays from serving and, when discovered serving, dishonorably discharging them.

On April 18, 1965, Rodwell led picketing at the United Nations Plaza in New York to protest Cuban detention and placement into workcamps of gays, along with Wicker, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and about 25 others.

On April 21, 1966, Rodwell, along with Mattachine President Dick Leitsch and John Timmons engaged in a demonstration then called a "Sip-In" at Julius, a bar in Greenwich Village, to protest the (NY) State Liquor Authority rule against the congregation of gays in establishments that served alcohol. Rodwell had at an earlier date been thrown out of Julius for wearing an "Equality for Homosexuals" button. Rodwell and the others argued that the rule furthered bribery and corruption of the police. The resultant publicly led eventually to the end of the SLA rule.

In November 1969, Rodwell proposed the first gay pride parade to be held in New York City by way of a resolution at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations meeting in Philadelphia, along with his partner Fred Sargeant (HYMN vice chairman), Ellen Broidy and Linda Rhodes. The first march was organized from Rodwell's apartment on Bleecker Street.
"That the Annual Reminder, in order to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle in which we are engaged-that of our fundamental human rights-be moved both in time and location.
We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called CHRISTOPHER STREET LIBERATION DAY. No dress or age regulations shall be made for this demonstration.
We also propose that we contact Homophile organizations throughout the country and suggest that they hold parallel demonstrations on that day. We propose a nationwide show of support.
Rodwell is believed to have created the term heterosexism in January 1971 when he wrote:
"After a few years of this kind of 'liberated' existence such people become oblivious and completely unseeing of straight predjudice and - to coin a phrase - the 'hetero-sexism' surrounding them virtually 24 hours a day."
In 1978 Rodwell was one of the creators and organizers of Gay People in Christian Science (GPICS). Rodwell credits Kay Tobin with suggesting the idea for the group. One reason for the creation of the group was that three of its members had been recently excommunicated from the local branch church. In 1980 the group began to demonstrate by leafletting at the church's Annual Meeting in Boston and by 1999, six years after Rodwell's death, the Christian Scientist church no longer barred openly gay or lesbian people from membership.

Rodwell was the recipient of the 1992 Lambda Literary Award for Publisher's Service.

In March 1993, Rodwell sold his bookshop to Bill Offenbaker. Rodwell died on June 18, 1993 of stomach cancer.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Rodwell
NO ONE WILL ever know for sure which was the most important reason for what happened next: the freshness in their minds of Judy Garland's funeral, or the example of all the previous rebellions of the sixties-the civil rights revolution, the sexual revolution and the psychedelic revolution, each of which had punctured gaping holes in crumbling traditions of passivity, puritanism and bigotry. All that is certain is that twelve hours after Garland's funeral, a handful of New York City policemen began a routine raid of a gay Greenwich Village nightspot, and the drag queens, teenagers, lesbians, hippies-even the gay men in suits-behaved as no homosexual patrons had ever behaved before. Deputy Police Inspector Seymour Pine, who led the raiding party, would never forget it. "I had been in combat situations," he said, but "there was never any time that I felt more scared than then.... You have no idea how close we came to killing somebody." The Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street was not an elegant establishment; it didn't even have running water behind the bar. But the crowd was unusually eclectic for a gay place in this era, and sixties types like Jack Nichols enjoyed the feeling of "free-wheeling anarchy" inside. Like nearly all gay bars in 1969, its existence depended on two groups that younger gay people despised: the Mob, which owned it; and the local police, who took weekly payoffs from it. Because the "inn" was without a liquor license, it pretended to be a "bottle club," which meant that everyone had to sign in at the door. "Judy Garland" and "Elizabeth Taylor" were two of the most popular pseudonyms. On weekends, admission cost $3, in return for which one got two tickets, good for two drinks. According to the historian Martin Duberman, this obscure venue was an unlikely gold mine: the weekend take often approached $12,000, the weekly payoff to the precinct was always $2,000 and the rent was just $300 a month. The bar had often been raided before, but this raid was different because it occurred without a prior warning to the owners.' Shortly after midnight, about a dozen policemen arrived at the front door. Inside, the fifties tradition of flashing white lights to warn of incoming undercover men had been maintained, and the dancing stopped before the raiding party entered. After checking for attire "appropriate" to gender-a requirement of New York state law-the police released most of the two hundred patrons. Only a couple of employees and some of the most outrageous drag queens were arrested. Outdoors in the summer heat, the mood was festive, but many eyewitnesses also remember a febrile feeling in the air. Several spectators agreed that it was the action of a cross-dressing lesbian-possibly Storme DeLarverie-which would change everyone's attitude forever. DeLarverie denied that she was the catalyst, but her own recollection matched others' descriptions of the defining moment. "The cop hit me, and I hit him back," DeLarverie explained. For the first time in history, "The cops got what they gave." This had never happened before. There was instant pandemonium. The police were pelted with pennies, dimes, and insults, as shouts of "Pigs," "Faggot cops," and "This is your payoff!" filled the night. Morty Manford remembered a rock shattering a second-floor window above the bar's entrance, which produced a collective "Ooh!" from the crowd. The raiders quickly retreated inside and bolted the heavy door behind them. But one of the demonstrators had pulled a loose parking meter out of the ground and started to use it as a battering ram. Jeremiah Newton saw inmates of the Women's House of Detention throwing flaming pieces of toilet paper out their cells. "They fell down very delicately, very gracefully, extinguishing before they hit the bottom," he said. Sheridan Square Park was directly across the street, and it provided excellent ammunition: "It was full of bottles and bricks," said Newton. "It just happened to be the right place at the right time. If the Stonewall had been further down the block, where nobody could stand across from it, perhaps nothing would have happened." Believing he could intimidate the crowd, Inspector Pine raced outside and grabbed one of the demonstrators around the waist. When Pine pulled him back in, Howard Smith, a Village Voice reporter who had accompanied the raiding party, quickly recognized the policeman's quarry: it was Dave Van Ronk, a well-known heterosexual folksinger (and a good friend of Bob Dylan) who had wandered over from the Lion's Head next door to investigate the disturbance. Once inside, Van Ronk was badly beaten by the furious policemen. Then the cops grabbed a fire hose to try to keep the screaming demonstrators away, but it produced only a feeble spray-and more ridicule from their attackers. "Grab it, grab his cock!" someone yelled from the crowd, and Craig Rodwell shouted, "Gay Power!" --Charles Kaiser. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America. Kindle Edition.

Craig Rodwell at the Oscar Wilde Bookstore, 1992, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1124032)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)

Further Readings:

Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (May 19, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312342691
ISBN-13: 978-0312342692
Amazon: Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution

"Riveting...Not only the definitive examination of the riots but an absorbing history of pre-Stonewall America, and how the oppression and pent-up rage of those years finally ignited on a hot New York night." - Boston Globe

In 1969, a series of riots over police action against The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village, changed the longtime landscape of the homosexual in society literally overnight. Since then the event itself has become the stuff of legend, with relatively little hard information available on the riots themselves. Now, based on hundreds of interviews, an exhaustive search of public and previously sealed files, and over a decade of intensive research into the history and the topic, Stonewall brings this singular event to vivid life in this, the definitive story of one of history's most singular events.

Christian Science: Its Encounter With Lesbian/Gay America by Bruce Stores
Paperback: 274 pages
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc. (September 9, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 059532620X
ISBN-13: 978-0595326204
Amazon: Christian Science: Its Encounter With Lesbian/Gay America

Author Bruce Stores has shed light on a hitherto unknown chapter in the annals of Christian Science. This is the story of lesbian/gay believers. Herein is their pursuit for respect and dignity in the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The narrative traces stormy encounters from the days of near total rejection up to the friendlier atmosphere in the 21st century. Some events in this real life story are shameful while others are praiseworthy. This is a story of perseverance, hope, and especially healing. Anyone who values the triumph of right over wrong, and truth over error, will find this narrative both compelling and informative.

More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices

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Tags: activist: craig rodwell, particular voices

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