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Judy Garland: The Gay Connection


This was the headline that greeted millions of people as they opened their Sunday morning paper on the hot summer morning of June 22, 1969.

For thirty years Judy Garland had been an icon all over the world. She was a link to that magical place where troubles melted away as we went over the rainbow. The funeral was to be held on Campbell’s Funeral Home in New York City. On June 27 1969 over 22,000 waited in line to take one last, albeit short, look at their beloved Judy. This was the largest funeral in New York City since Rudolph Valentino was laid to rest in 1926.

June 27th, 1969. This is where history begins, for who would have thought that Frances Gumm, aka, Judy Garland from Grand Rapids, Minnesota would be the catalyst that gave rise to the gay liberation movement?

On that sweltering New York night a crowd of gay men, including many drag queens held a memorial for Judy at the largest gay bar in Greenwich Village, The Stonewall Inn. As Judy’s records played on the Jukebox, a group of “the city’s finest” decided to stage a little raid. This was not uncommon in the 60’s the “era of peace and love”, the New York gay bars and their patrons had for years been the target of police raids. These hate raids usually went unchallenged with the clients of the bar being paraded out into the street and loaded into vans taken down to the station and being booked on everything from public intoxication to prostitution to lewd and lascivious conduct. Anything the cops wanted to dream up.

But not on this night. Not on this solemn occasion.

Someone picked up a shot glass and threw it across the bar hitting a cop. The cops went nuts, the batons come out and the Stonewall Riot began.

It seems there was always a connection between Judy and homosexuals. Judy’s father, Frank Gumm, was gay, buried in the closet of the early 1900’s. Judy herself married two gay men - Director Vincent Minnelli, Liza’s father, and Mark Herron a part time actor. Homosexuals have for years referred to themselves as “friends of Dorothy”

But why Judy? Both onscreen and off, Judy projected a unique combination of vulnerability and strength. As she sang songs of deep loneliness you could hear her heart break. These songs were followed by others telling of feverish love. These dichotomies reflected the lives of oppressed, closeted gay men in the 1950s and 1960s. Judy was never the darling of the press. All of her troubles were greedily reported by them in blow by blow accounts her bouts with drug addiction, the suicide attempts, her legal battles and divorces all made great fodder for the press. Gay men came to identify with these troubles. They too had gone through many of the same trials. Yet Judy always came back. No matter how many times she was pounded down; not only by the press but also by the injustices of life she always clawed her way back to the top.

Now this is not to say that Judy actually began the gay rights movement. There were gay rights groups as far back as the 1800’s. Judy’s passing was merely the mechanism that brought it to the forefront.

One of the first gay rights activists was Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, who lived in 19th-century Germany. Ulrichs actively campaigned for the repeal of German anti-sodomy laws. The first mass gay rights activism movement was in pre-World War II Berlin, Germany. The gay rights movement in Germany was almost completely obliterated by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement.

In the United States, several secret or semi-secret groups were formed to advance the rights of homosexuals as early as the turn of the twentieth century, but little is known about them. A better documented group is Henry Gerber’s Society for Human Rights formed in Chicago in 1924, which was quickly suppressed.

The first true era of the gay rights movement is generally considered to have begun in the fifties. The homophile movement, as it was called, emerged with the formation in Los Angeles and San Francisco of the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis and ONE, Inc.. ONE Inc. was the first public homosexual organization in the U.S. and ONE Magazine the first widely circulated gay and lesbian magazine. The homophile movement was fairly conservative and it lobbied within the system for social acceptability. Any demonstrations were orderly and polite. By 1969, there were dozens of homophile organizations and publications in the U.S., and a national organization had been formed, but the media largely ignored them. This would change with the Stonewall riots

Many homosexuals today do not remember who Judy was or know why she was so important to the gay rights movement, but they see one glaring tribute to her and her memory perhaps without realizing it. It is the ultimate symbol of gay rights.

The rainbow flag.

“Comeback? What comeback? Where in the hell have I been?” - Judy Garland (1922 – 1969)


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