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Syracuse Remembers The Impact Of The Stonewall Uprising 50 Years Later

The influence of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City 50 years ago can be seen in the oversized portraits on display at Syracuse’s ArtRage Gallery.  Community engagement organizer Kimberley McCoy says the subjects of Hudson Valley artist Joe Radoccia weren’t necessarily at the riot or even alive at the time…

"He titled it about face because he really feels like our society has done an about face in terms of social justice and rights and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community," said McCoy. "So the exhibition is a portrait exhibition of individuals and elders that are important to the artist, kind of letting them show their faces, tell their stories. Anyone that sees these portratis just recognize their beauty. Joe is a exceptional portrait artist. The scale of them, they are larger than life. They are looking directly at you."  
To complement the portraits, McCoy put together an exhibit chronicling Syracuse’s LGBTQ history using artifacts dating back to the mid-1970’s.  She says the donated newsletters, articles, photos, posters, buttons, and t-shirts illustrate the evolution of the movement.

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
Buttons displayed at the exhibit show are one of many artifacts that illustrate the history of the LGBTQ rights movement.

"There are teenagers throwing stones," McCoy said. "Many people weren't out. People were wearing paper bags on their head to conceal their identity. And then if you look at pride that happened last weekend, it was huge. Everybody was there. It was widely celebrated."

“About Face: 50 years after Stonewall” will be on exhibit at Art Rage Gallery through July 12th

LGBTQ Elders Recall The Impact Of Stonewall

The leader of an organization that serves older LGBTQ Central New Yorkers is also reflecting on the influence of the Stonewall Inn raid and riots.  Executive director of SAGE Upstate Kim Dill says it was one of the first times LGBTQ people retaliated against the police and oppressive laws.  She says similar raids were taking place here in Syracuse and across the country.  

"The police would come in. They would arrest everybody," Dill said. "You couldn't dance with somebody of the same gender. You couldn't wear certain kinds of clothing of the other gender. These things were against the law. People were defined as mentally ill. They were kicked out of their families. They were kicked out of their church. The people that we serve still carry the scars from those eras." 

At the same time, Dill says they were resilient, and key parts of the early gay rights movements that forced change.  She says some of those they serve were in New York City when Stonewall happened, but stayed away because they were closeted.  Even so, Dill says for many, it’s bittersweet.

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News
The 25th Commemoration of Stonewall pushed leaders and advocates to further their fight for equality.

"Pride is just an empowering thing," said Dill. "Pride is the opposite of shame, right? Which is what we felt when we were in the closet. And being able to walk down the street and wear rainbow stuff and chant and dance and have fun is the opposit of sitting in your house worrying that something bad is going to happen because somebody finds out that you're gay."

Dill says many in that era got married and had children, and feared losing their jobs if they came out.  As they retired and kids moved away, she says they felt more comfortable about expressing their true identity.  The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising is June 28th.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at
Katie Zilcosky is WAER’s All Things Considered host and features reporter. She also co-hosts WAER’s public affairs show Syracuse Speaks. As a reporter, she focuses on technology, economy, and identity.