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Fifty Years After Stonewall, What’s the Political Role of the American Gay Bar?

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Julius’ Bar in New York City, then and now.

About 10 minutes into Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Marielle Heller’s 2018 film about the writer Lee Israel, we find Lee, played by Melissa McCarthy, sitting deep in thought in a bar when a Brit named Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) enters the establishment and, on recognizing Lee, joins her. She initially doesn’t fully remember Jack. But then: “You pissed in a closet,” she says, recalling a book party where there was a “handsome English gentleman who was so shit-faced he mistook the coat closet for the can” and “ruined thousands of dollars’ worth of furs.” The two, so similar in their charmingly louche humor, laugh and drink. When they eventually leave, hammered and happy, we get a clear view of the bar’s name: Julius’.

Julius’ isn’t just any New York City bar; it has a distinct political history. On April 21st, 1966, members of the New York chapter of the Mattachine Society—one of the most prominent gay rights organizations during the mid-century “Homophile Movement“—staged a Sip-In at Julius’, which was already popular among gay men. (Notably, they didn’t initially choose Julius’, but rather ended up there after their attempts were thwarted elsewhere.) By outing themselves before ordering a drink, the sippers hoped to bring legal scrutiny to the way that bars were refusing service to people suspected of being gay (bars claimed that the simple presence of homosexuals was “disorderly,” and feared that disorderly conduct could jeopardize their licenses). The Mattachines’ tactic worked: The bartender denied them service, and, within weeks, the ensuing publicity got the attention of the city’s Commission on Human Rights. The commission’s public agreement with the protesters forced the New York State Liquor Authority to clarify that there was, in fact, no policy against serving homosexuals. Julius’ soon became a haven for gay patrons like Lee and Jack.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !