Author and journalist David Marr will shatter some of the myths surrounding the Stonewall Riots when he delivers the keynote address at the Aurora Dinner this Saturday.

The gala charity fundraiser will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark riot in New York that gave rise to Gay Liberation.

Marr is prepared to disappoint many in the community by telling them once and for all that Stonewall had nothing to do with Judy Garland’s funeral. It wasn’t the first time an angry gay, lesbian, transsexual, cross-dressing crowd fought back, nor the first political protest mounted as a result.

What is it about Stonewall that makes it a model for effective change? When you ask that question, Stonewall becomes really interesting again, Marr said.

What makes it interesting is the legends, he said. A group of very clever people in the aftermath found a way of celebrating Stonewall that made it an iconic event in gay history. The celebration was the famous march one year later.

That march stretched over 15 blocks. People celebrated a revolution against police going too far and a legend was born. That success came despite intense negative coverage in the major US newspapers, including the Village Voice, which coincidentally had a reporter in the pub at the time.

While researching for his speech, Marr was surprised to find the only positive column to be written about the original riot at the time was on the other side of the world in The Sydney Morning Herald -” not known for progressive views on homosexuality at the time.

And yet 10 years later they go publish the name of every poor teacher and lawyer and bus driver who was arrested in a police ambush in Kings Cross [the 1978 Mardi Gras]. It was a tremendous punishment. I was shocked.

Marr was a junior reporter for the SMH’s sister-paper, The National Times, during Sydney’s march. Although he was not at the march, he attended court on the Monday and was appalled.

It was a moment of profound radicalisation in my life. I wrote a long narrative of the march. It was the first time I had written about a gay subject. I can’t tell you how nervous I was. I thought that with this piece I was signing my professional death warrant, he said.

I am very proud of that piece of journalism. It was a sort of foundation stone for my career. The march for me was not a piece of political demonstrating but a piece of reporting, and I’ve seen myself ever since as a reporter, but a reporter with a purpose.

The lessons Marr learned from Stonewall and Mardi Gras were that effective change requires both mad activists and stitched-up gay lawyers, and that it is important that everybody come out.

It ends if everybody would just come out. It’s over then. The number is so overwhelmingly huge, everywhere, every family, every village, every suburb, every profession, every trade. Everybody just come out.

info: The Aurora Dinner, Sat, 27 June, 6.30pm, Paddington Town Hall. Visit auroragroup.com.au

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