A story about Philly police raiding gay bars

March 1, 2012 Gay and Lesbian, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (1) 932

A friend forwarded me the story below from the current William Way Community Center newsletter. I just love it:


This month, we honor Women’s History Month while also remembering a key moment in LGBT history.On the south side of Walnut St., opposite the Forrest Theatre is Moriarty’s Irish Pub and Restaurant. Around the corner, through the side door on Quince and up a flight of stairs is what was “Rusty’s,” the most popular lesbian bar in Philadelphia in the ‘50s,‘60s and early ‘70s. Although back then the sign on Walnut St. identified the bar as “Barone’s Variety Room,” women in the city knew it as “Rusty’s,” after Rusty Parisi, the tough, butch, no-nonsense lesbian manager.

On the night of March 8, 1968, Rusty’s suddenly found the jukebox unplugged and the house lights brought up. It was a police raid, an all too common occurrence for gay and lesbian bars under then Police Commissioner Rizzo.  Many of the women were verbally abused; police accused them of being drunk and disorderly. Some were booked and held overnight, then brought before a magistrate the next day, but all charges were dropped. It was a clear-cut case of harassment.

The local chapter of D.O.B. editorialized against the raid. D.O.B., the “Daughters of Bilitis,” was a national lesbian social and support organization with a policy of political non-involvement. The Philadelphia chapter was one of the exceptions. A few nights later, when there was another raid on Rusty’s, local activists Ada Bello, Lourdes Alvarez and Barbara Gittings were present. When asked for her I.D., Gittings flashed her ACLU card and the police moved on.

In May, the D.O.B. arranged a meeting with the Philadelphia Police Inspector and they brought along an ACLU observer. The D.O.B. let the Inspector know that they represented the community and that they were not afraid to protest violations. The police issued a statement that “homosexuals have been, are now, and will be treated equally with heterosexuals.” Because of their active support in the incident, membership in the Philadelphia D.O.B. increased dramatically. A year before the Stonewall riots, the raid on Rusty’s and the reaction of local lesbians was a clear success story for gay rights.

You can learn more about LGBT political activism in Philadelphia in Marc Stein’s book, “City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves” and by visiting the John J. Wilcox Archive.

My favorite line is the one about Barbara Gittings being asked for her ID, but instead showing her ACLU card, “and the police moved on.”

For years I’ve had this idea of staging a police raid at a gay bar as a fundraising event. My generation of LGBT patrons have never had to experience that (at least, not in Philadelphia) and I think it would be engaging and startling. Halfway through the event, the house lights would come up, the music would suddenly stop, and actors portraying police would barge in and start harassing patrons. Perhaps they could even “arrest” patrons, and the “bail money” they paid would be their donation to the fundraiser. I don’t think it’s quite right for the ACLU, but maybe I can sell the William Way on it.

I’ve even heard there’s at least one gay bar in Philadelphia (I don’t know which…maybe the Bike Stop?) that still has its raid light installed. This is the bright red alarm light they used to trigger when the cops showed up, to tip off the patrons that they’d better high-tail it out the back.

Continue Reading

Winning the Future

February 17, 2012 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 242

My mother and I started the morning in a courtroom, observing a legal challenge to Conshohocken Borough’s new law protecting LGBT residents against discrimination. There were eight of us in the audience, all supporters of the law, while the plaintiff (who was challenging the law) was left to argue alone – and, honestly, turns out to be kind of a lunatic.

I actually found myself a little bored — but I’ve got to say it’s a nice change from the days when the supporters of gay rights would have been the minority, and the guy defending discrimination would have had an army of sign-toting religious zealots supporting him.

Continue Reading

Philadelphia Post-Hurricane Irene

August 29, 2011 In The News, Personal, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 446

The reporter in me says "what a great image!" while the nerd in me says "Obviously that's why they build things like parking lots on flood plains."

I flew back from Las Vegas literally hours before Hurricane Irene hit Philadelphia. Let me say that it’s pretty unfair going from the City of Overstimulation straight to twenty-four hours of lockdown inside my apartment, but I was worried about leaving my cats alone. I had visions of my windows shattering, glass flying everywhere, and one or both of the cats getting lost in the streets of South Philadelphia, and I figured that if I was home, I could pull them into the bathroom where there are no windows.

In the end, of course, there was very little damage. The wind blew pretty noisily for a few hours, and a brand new leak opened in the ceiling of my living room (which reminds me, I need to call the landlord today…) but mostly I played on Facebook and watched a lot of sensationalist hurricane coverage on the news.

Speaking of sensationalist hurricane coverage... my favorite image to come out of Hurricane Irene, courtesy of Skeptoid genius Brian Dunning.

To be clear, I am not complaining. At all. While Irene’s passage through Philly wound up being mostly hype, there were a good two hours when I was feeling pretty anxious, and I’m thankful things weren’t worse. One look at the consequences in North Carolina and in the Catskill Mountains reminds us that we shouldn’t take such weather events lightly. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

“The Dark Knight Rises” is filming winter scenes in Pittsburgh.

August 1, 2011 In The News, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 249

Yesterday in Pittsburgh it was ninety degrees and muggy, and Bane and his army of soldiers or minions or whatever were wearing winter coats. That’s fake snow that’s blowing around on the steps of the courthouse. Makes me a little glad I’m not in the movie business. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Sharing the road

June 21, 2011 Personal, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 503

I took advantage of the gorgeous evening in Philadelphia last night with a long-ish bike ride through the city and along the Schuylkill River Trail and Kelly Drive. Not too many cities offer 30+ miles of prime riverside trail, and Philadelphia residents are generally quick to take advantage. Lots of residents. Lots and lots of residents. I know, because I nearly hit damn near every one of them.

Like those out for an evening stroll with the family, walking four abreast on a crowded recreational trail – holding hands. Heavy ladies, side by side with ample room in between for arm swinging. Inline skaters, most of them inexperienced, legs kicking wildly like newborn deer. Then there are the serious cyclists – of which I am not one – who tear through the crowd at approximately seven hundred miles per hour, a barely perceptible streak of neon lycra and entitlement.

How one’s perception changes with their station in this melee! When I have been a pedestrian, I curse the reckless bicyclists who warn me with a staccato “onyourleft!” a split second before nearly bisecting me. When I run or ride my bike, it’s the pedestrians who are the assholes, utterly oblivious to everything happening around them. When they aren’t head-down in their personal electronic devices, they’re caught up in conversation, or staring mindlessly at the clouds like a hapless cow heading for the bolt gun. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Ashamed of my alma mater

September 29, 2009 In The News, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (0) 374

Riot Police in Oakland

This past Thursday and Friday, armed riot police invaded the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus.  Ostensibly defending the visiting G-20 delegates meeting several miles away, these police in no way confined themselves to breaking up disruptions or protests.  They attacked and arrested students who were making casual use of campus facilities including the student union and the residence halls.  They trapped students between locked doors and police barricades and gassed or attacked them when they “refused to disperse.”  They arrested student journalists and legal observers.  They even invaded student housing, going to far as to arrest students for “refusal to disperse” within their own dorm rooms.

How has the University responded?  With outrage at the treatment of students making typical use of University and public property?  With warnings about overreaching police power and questions about closing an entire city to its residents because of a handful of visiting foreign nationals?  Not exactly.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

The demons within the walls

May 8, 2007 Animals, Philly / Pennsylvania Comments (134) 12146

Is there any invertebrate creepier than the house centipede (AKA “thousand-legger”)? I grew up in Upstate New York, and had never encountered one of these until I first moved to southeastern PA around 1993. The first time I saw one skitter across the living room while I was watching TV, I thought for sure I’d seen some kind of demon–a lesser demon, granted, but a demon nonetheless.

Turns out it’s just Scutigera coleoptrata, a fast-moving type of centipede that lives mostly within human homes and eats spiders, roaches, bedbugs, silverfish, and other small insect-types that also invade human dwellings. Doesn’t sound like much, I know, and if you’ve been fortunate enough never to have encountered one, you have no idea just how disconcerting the sight of fifteen pairs of legs moving in a coordinated wave can be as this sizeable critter slashes across a floor or wall.

Since we got our dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback mix, we haven’t had much problem with these little guys. We just say “Copper, bug!” and he goes into full-on hunting dog mode, enthusiastically sniffing out the centipede before crushing it to death with his paws, and then typically tossing it around a bit before eating it. Unfortunately, he’s recently taken to retching — and I mean, retching — after eating one, so we’re not letting him do that any more. I looked up information on the house centipede, and it appears that their venom is not dangerous to house pets, though their bite is recorded as painful. After finding a close-up photo of a house centipede face, all I can say is yikes. I’m not surprised their bite is painful, check out those fangs!

Continue Reading

Continue Reading