Almost everyone, especially those of us in the LGBT community, have heard of The Stonewall Inn, and the Stonewall Riots that were the catalyst that sparked the gay rights movement as we know it today. But did you know that the current Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village is not the site of the original Stonewall Inn? You learn something new every day, right? According to former New Yorker Ed Moles, the actual The Stonewall Inn, was in a building beside the current Stonewall. It’s a fact that has been lost in the current lore that surrounds the famed establishment.
Moles has called South Florida home for the past 15 years, but he’s a native New Yorker and he’s got the accent to prove it. It was a living history lesson when I got the chance to chat with him about his role in the riots that took place 45 years ago this week. He proved to be a fountain of knowledge and, despite the number of years since the events took place, has clear memories of what it was like as a gay man living in New York City during the “dark years” and the glory days of free love that followed during the 1970s, before the AIDS crisis wiped out so many in our community.
Ed Moles worked in public relations for Hilton Hotels and his office for a long time was located in what is perhaps the most famous hotel in the world, The Waldorf Astoria. From that vantage point, he has seen it all. From Judy Garland, to Yasser Arafat, kings and queens, and Hollywood royalty, everyone who is anyone stayed at the Waldorf. Moles said, “I was skinny and looked great in a blue suit,” traits that no doubt helped make him one of the youngest PR execs in the hotel chain at the time.
One late June night in 1969, Moles happened to be strolling through the Village when he noticed “an incident” happening outside of a seedy bar. “The Stonewall was not a place where nice white gay boys hung out. Hustlers and drug dealers and drag queens went there. I was actually never in the Stonewall but I was walking by when I noticed something happening outside. The police arrived and it was a chaotic scene outside of the bar. Several of us realized there was a raid and started running around yelling, ‘OUT OF THE BARS, INTO THE STREETS.’” People listened to their plea and within a short time there were around 500 to 800 people gathered in the area. “Eventually, someone lit a trash can on fire and threw it through the window of the Stonewall and people were chanting and yelling at the cops,” Moles said.
Moles’ presence at the riots sparked an activist streak inside of him and he joined the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights, but during the 1970s he eventually grew less and less political, lulled into a false sense of security during what many saw as “the good old days” of free love before AIDS. “The ’70s was a prime time for gays. It was really a wonderful time to be gay,” he said. As men starting dying, he was in the epicenter of the crisis again. “I was at the first meeting of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in Larry Kramer’s apartment,” he remarked. I asked him if he saw The Normal Heart, written by Kramer, which tells his story, the onset of AIDS, and that of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis from the point of view of a fictional writer turned activist. He said he saw it and felt it was accurate. “It actually portrayed Kramer as he was,” he said.
Like many who lived through those dark days and lost so many of their friends and loved ones, Moles saw no other option than to get involved in the political scene again. He felt this way because it seemed our political leaders of the day were content to rest on their laurels and watch men waste away and die way before their time. He worked to get housing for sick patients and founded an organization that helped feed those who were stricken by the disease. He was also an award winning public relations agent and served as the Media Committee Chairman for GLAAD during the early days of the organization.
Ed Moles is now in his mid-seventies and is among a disappearing group of people who were actually there when history was made in New York City on June 28, 1969. He is an amazing storyteller who inherited a knack for the spoken word from his Irish ancestors. As members of the next generation, it’s our duty to make sure that men like Moles have the opportunity to share their stories and pass on the knowledge they have gained through a lifetime of struggles, setbacks, and ultimately success that we stand on today.
Thank you, Ed Moles, we honor you and appreciate all that you did to help get us where we are today.