Feature writing

Stonewall 50

Chopped’s Ted Allen: ‘You tolerate mosquitoes. I don’t want tolerance. Fuck tolerance. I want love, respect.’

The Daily Beast

June 15, 2019

Ted Allen on Stonewall 50: ‘It means a lot to me, and should to everybody, not just in the LGBTQ community but anyone who cares about freedom. It was a real turning point for us.’

When and how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?

I can’t remember exactly when. I feel like I’ve always known. I was a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to being a gay guy, which I sometimes regret, but I also think it was a bit of good luck on my part.

It’s hard to believe I was alive at the time. I’m 54, born in May 1965. Who knows if my coming out would have happened if Stonewall had not happened?

If I had come out at 18 I would have been at Ground Zero for AIDS, long before we knew about it. My first reporting job was in Chicago. I was certainly reading about Stonewall at graduate school when I was finally accepting myself.

There are a lot of political problems in this country right now, one in particular: a big, fat, dark cloud for anyone who cares about anything and that person is causing a lot of trouble for us. But in the last few years people’s acceptance of things like marriage equality and marijuana use has been really good.

If you rewind back to Stonewall, it was a bunch of drag queens, effeminate gays and people looked down on by other gays who decided they had had enough, and they did something. A year later, gay rights marches happened in New York and San Francisco, and then other major cities. It was amazing.

What is the significance of the Stonewall Riots for you now?

A lot of different things. One significant echo of Stonewall teaches us to respect every member of the community. The patrons of Stonewall had been marginalized by everyone, including other gays. It was not a fashionable hangout. It’s amazing that a group of people there established a civil rights milestone, but they did.

I remember making my first pilgrimage there in my twenties. I had a couple of beers with a friend and let being there soak in. It means a lot to me, and should to everybody not just in the LGBTQ community but anyone who cares about freedom. It was a real turning point for us. People used to get locked up. They still get beaten up. They get killed even. Barry (Rice) and I are as legally married as any married person can be, but different LGBTQ people still get picked on and worse.

How far have LGBT people come since 1969?

We’ve made enormous strides, and the people I most credit for that are the activists who have devoted their careers to it. New kinds of fiery and less fiery activism were born then. The Windy City Times in Chicago is a great newspaper and voice; it’s still going strong. The gay press deserves a lot of credit for the work they have done.

What would you like to see in the next 50 LGBT years?

It’s unimaginable what could happen. A great deal has already happened in terms of overall acceptance. Look at NYC Pride. It’s embraced by every culture apart from the extreme right and those who wish to demonize us.

Most straight Americans think we should have the same freedoms as they have. I grew up in Indiana, my mother still lives there. Mike Pence was going nowhere fast until becoming vice president happened to him. It would be great to see him consigned to the dustbin of history where he belongs.

You know how you used to have those bumper stickers that teach tolerance? I always found that an odd goal. You tolerate mosquitoes. I don’t want tolerance. Fuck tolerance. I want love. I want respect. Those people who think they’re heroic for showing us tolerance? No, you owe us, and racial minorities and immigrants, way more than that. Take a boat out to the Statue of Liberty and read the plaque.

What would you say to the Stonewall demonstrators that night?

If I had the chance to meet somebody participating in the Stonewall Riots, the first thing I’d say was, ‘May I give you a hug and thank you. You had no idea what you were starting, but you stoked a fire that now rages in millions of people.’ You need that fire to make things change and get things to happen.

Every civil rights battle is different, and has different shades of meaning. Young people didn’t live through the AIDS crisis, but they know well enough to respect it.

Stonewall, and later AIDS activism, resulted from so much anger and energy, and seeing friends and family die around them. Then there was marriage equality. We saw it in the midterms as well. I’m looking forward to the next chapter in this whole thing. I hope it will be a brighter one.