History bluff

That awkward moment you bring up Stonewall without knowing anything about it, starring Derrick Barry

To mark Pride month, Billboard filmed a four-part drag queen roundtable called “Spilling the Tea.” For one queen, a little unintended tea in the form of I-think-I-know-what-Stonewall-was-but-maybe-I-actually-don’t was spilt.

The series features former Drag Race competitors Derrick Barry, Manila Luzon, Mariah Balenciaga, Pandora Boxx and Willam in conversation with singer and Drag Race guest judge Tamar Braxton.

In the fourth and final part of the series, the queens cover topics ranging from gay dating apps to boring club goers to Tamar’s backing vocals on Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

Somewhere in the middle, there’s a lesson on queer history. In their description of the segment, Billboard writes that “Willam gives the girls a history lesson on Stonewall.”

And that’s true, but it’s the moment that prompted his lesson that’s causing a stir online.

During a conversation about fighting for LGBTQ rights, Derrick chimes in with a familiar complaint:

“Like when people don’t know what Stonewall is,” he says.

“Why don’t you tell everybody what that is?” prompts Tamar.

Uh-oh.

“That was fighting for gay rights,” Derrick explains in the broadest of brush strokes before adding, “and people were killed!”

“Nobody was killed at Stonewall,” interjects Willam.

“Nobody was killed?” asks Derrick like a deer in the headlights.

The moment is a reminder that knowing queer history buzzwords is not the same as knowing queer history. It can also be viewed below:

IM SCEAMING why is this most gays

Posted by Sai Alston on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

We certainly don’t mean to be hard on Derrick (well not too hard). Learning takes listening, and he seemed perfectly willing to take in Willam’s fact-based account of the 1969 riot credited with sparking the modern LGBTQ rights movement (though it wasn’t the first clash with authorities, as Willam mentions).

After the series aired, Derrick shared a clip from the segement on Instagram in which he talks about the importance of queer visibility.

“Be OUT & VOCAL & VISIBLE,” he wrote, and it certainly does seem that his heart is in the right place. But he also could have used his ignorance of Stonewall as a way to encourage more people — say, his followers — to do some research and learn their history. Instead, he showed himself in the best light.

“Woke queen,” wrote one commenter on the Instagram share. OK, that’s pushing it.

You can catch the full segment below (the Stonewall exchange comes at the 4:15 mark):

And if you aren’t so sharp on your Stonewall history (and that’s OK!), here’s a highly-accessible recent video from Tyler Oakley in which he talks with some folk who were there as well as activists about the event’s significance:


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28 Comments

  • Kieran

    l bet she believes people were killed at Trump rallies too. Poor little dupe.

  • pharaon.em.joe

    I have never seen Willam this serious. :)
    Girl get on allstars 3 :) and educate!

    • dwes09

      I should add that prior to Stonewall, nobody was “fighting for gay rights”. They were begging for the most basic legal protections as individuals: remember that homosexuality was still a crime in places until 2003.

    • dwes09

      Whoops, that comment appeared in the wrong place. It was intended to be an addenda to my earlier one!

  • Liam

    Had someone told her that people were killed at Stonewall in 1969? Or was that just what she pulled out of her ?

    • pudman56

      My money’s on she pulled it out of her…Stonewall itself wasn’t even really in the mix of fighting for gay rights, it’s more important for it’s being the final straw that resulted in the blowback, and drag queens deserve a sincere thanks for their big part. It’s historically marked as the start of the modern movement.

      Okay, next bet. Can she explain the Mattachine Society?

    • dwes09

      Stonewall was very much “in the mix”. Prior to Stonewall the push was for the most basic form of acceptance, to not be seen as totally sad and sick (recall how the pitiful “boys in the band”, which delayed my coming out for years portrayed us). Prior to Stonewall the police in all cities felt totally justified in periodically raiding gay bars, publicizing identities and ruining lives. Stonewall made it clear that gay folk were no longer going to stand for that . The years of passivity and pleading for “acceptance” were over. I remember the opening of The Firehouse in NYC where there were huge events for gay men who were willing to be open and see themselves as whole and fully human for the first time. At university (Cornell, a hotbed of radical activity) the “Student Homophile League” changed their name to the Gay Student Union and began to hold dances in campus venues (I was not yet out, but as a local singer, my band played at the events and i met my first boyfriend playing a gig).

      Although Mattachine, Daughters of Bilitism and other “homophile” organizations had been working for legal protections and tolerance Stonewall marked a change in the minds of Gay people about themselves that can not be denied or downplayed, despite the political movement really having its start 30 or more years earlier.

  • pudman56

    The sad thing is that there are so many more resources concerning gay history, culture, past and present, than there was in the 70’s. Early 70’s. I guess I was lucky. I came out between 15-16, was an avid member of the “gay society” since my late teens (I’m 60), and learned early in my “gay life” about what history there was and what history I sought, too. Some girls really do just want to have fun, and no groups history is full of fun.

    • Bellerophon69

      Yeah, I’m 57, been out to close friends and family (who knew before I knew) since I was 16, but Denver in the 70’s was kind of removed from what was happening in San Fran and NYC so I had small clue as to what was happening outside in the world. Sure, you’d meet someone who was “worldly” and you’d hear about stuff, but there was just no media reference to find out because the Community was still pretty much in the closet; we’re so “mainstream” now, isn’t it great! I got to see history happening I suppose but there was in a communication blackout until the late 1980’s in my area, when news of “the outside world” was starting to flood in, probably because of the (finally) nationwide AIDS dialog. Now, with the web, it’s an open book, and hopefully Willam’s experience will get young and old LGBTs to “bone up” on our history; now I’m going to Google “Mattachine Society”, because I don’t have a clue on that one either!

  • Bellerophon69

    That’s OK Willam, you’re not the only young LGBT out there who lives in the now, recognizes and reveres the trials, tribulations, and strides made in the Community in the last 60 years but doesn’t actually know the history of the Gay Movement. Hell, I’m 57 and I just read “And the Band Played On” three years ago and I’d never even HEARD of Stonewall until 1985. It’s not like public schools have “Gay History 101”, and while I was born this way it’s not like we have a genetic chip in our heads about our history in modern society. I know a lot about it now (you’d be surprised how much anecdotal or just plain wrong 411 about “Gay History” you hear from other Gays), but I was paying taxes all during Reagan and his Ostrich Impersonation about HIV/AIDS, worked AIDS hospice during 1989-1994, was hitting the baths in Denver as an underage cutie (got in at 16, fake ID) in the ’70s when “Herpes” was the “scary buzzword”, and I think I finally learned about the Stonewall history in the 1990’s. Probably just because it was included in a history of the Continental Baths I was reading (in Screw magazine or some such rag) because I’m a Bette Midler fan. But we didn’t have the internet (what a wonderful time to be Gay; Internet, Grinder, free porn and you don’t have to sit in a smelly cubical to watch it!) and I’d encourage ALL LGBTs to “study up”, because “Tell me about the Stonewall Riots.” is probably going to be the next hot button question we’ll be asking each other.

    • Danny595

      It’s really gross and disturbing the way you talk about your trips to a disgusting bathhouse for loveless sex as if it is some sort of historical legacy that we should revere. You should be ashamed. You contributed to making the world a worse place for gay people.

    • Roan

      Oh Danny595, bless your prudish finger wagging heart. I guess we won’t be seeing you at Folsom this year?

    • Danny595

      @Roan – The EPA should declare Folsom St. a hazardous waste area and cordon it off.

    • geb1966

      Danny 595, dear, the baths ARE a part of the gay man’s legacy. It was a primary way to meet other gay men for years. It was also a reason for the rapid spread of AIDS , due to the sexual activity that wen ton in such places. Whether you approve or not, you can not deny the historical significance. You can not ignore or rewrite history just because you don’t approve of it. You sound like someone from the Trump camp

    • Truth-is-Truthy

      @Danny595 – Why does it bother you so much what other people do when it doesn’t concern or affect you in any way at all? There is a mythos around the baths that is not at all accurate. It’s not unlike the heterosexual equivalent of meeting up with a hooker – it’s made out to sound unsanitary, dangerous, dirty, wrong, and risque by the prudish. But in reality most people who engage in it (heteros with hookers and gay with baths) are respectful, clean, and safe. Sex has always been a problem in the United States due to the repressive influence of the Pilgrims (a.k.a. Puritans a.k.a. The Brethren) from the 1600s, and the southern Evangelicals of the past century. Sex is normal and natural. Although I am Demisexual I can understand why someone would want to have a casual relationship. What’s more, it’s important to understand the immense role that the baths played in gay history in America. For the longest time in America (and still now in many Asian countries) baths were the ONLY place to meet other gay people. When you’re 16 in the mid-70s where “homosexual” was still a disgusting word where even trying to find another gay person in your town or school would cause you a world of hurt, what is a boy to do? What is a gay male in 1965 supposed to do when he has no idea where to meet other gay people? He’s afraid of being caught, afraid of being blacklisted, losing his job, his reputation, and lots more … fear, fear, fear everywhere caused by the prudish and repressive people who want to destroy, kill, or convert him. Sexual desire is as natural as the desire to eat food, so how would that gay male find what he needs in 1945 or 1950 or 1965 or the early ’70s?

  • Terrycloth

    I know people who hate to read .dislike evening news rather keep up with fashion , working out , clubbing and gay diva singers. And drag…there’s a real world out there…I like being informed..not everything has to be gay …gay history is out there..won’t hurt to learn some

  • Riley

    Most people tend to forget that the sun always shines on TV and they put expendable clowns, stupid people and air heads on it to keep the general public entertained. As means to obtain public ratings for advertising and promoting corporate, company, business, tourism, hospitality and retail consumerism. Also advertise other TV shows with stupid people to do the same thing, this is how TV stations make money. If their show doesn’t bring in ratings they fire them and find more stupid people the public will watch. This is why you should ”NEVER” believe anything or what they say on TV seriously.

  • scotshot

    I find it interesting that so many people state it was impossible to know what was going on in the world during the 60s-70s. Even the small midwest city I grew up in had (small) articles in the newspaper on Stonewall. I’m lucky I was an avid newspaper reader even then. Many forget even the local gay news pamphlets that were to be had for free at pretty much every gay bar. And the Advocate with it’s pages long (sorta boring) articles. If you wanted to learn anything back then it was there, but not always the full story.

    • Zeke_Krahlin

      Scotshot: Gay bars in small Midwestern cities? In the 70s?

  • Danny595

    lol! This website is one to chide others for ignorance about Stonewall! Queerty has repeatedly told falsehoods about the riot, in particular that it was a riot of “transgenders” or of “drag queens.” False. There were very few of either group present. They neither started nor “led” the riot. The riot was overwhelmingly conducted by men, nearly all gay men on nights 1-3, and with substantial straight male participation on night 4. There were a few lesbians who participated and while few in number, their role was significant. Transgenders and drag queens combined numbered perhaps 8 out of a cumulative crowd total of 2000 and played a trivial role. While gay men, a lesbian and a straight man were all arrested by NYPD, not one transgender and not one drag queen was arrested.

    This won’t stop Queerty from repeating the lie. Over and over and over again.

    • MikeE

      I had friends at the time who were present, and arrested, and involved, who can confirm everything you’ve said. And yet this imaginary scenario keeps playing out where drag queens, trans women, and street youth were the driving force behind the riots. It’s infuriating to have a significant part of our history co-opted by people who were barely involved but who now want the visibility.

    • Danny595

      MikeE — Thanks so much for your reply. If you have a few free hours, you should consider asking your friends to recount in as much detail as possible what they saw — with an emphasis on who participated in the event and who did not. Record them and upload to Youtube and Vimeo. That would preserve gay history in the face of an attack by people who would distort that history.

  • He BGB

    I know a contestant from a previous ru season and it’s all about looking good and posting on social media. No tv, no books, except fashion and beauty. Many drag queens dont succeed in academics except an example like Rachel Welles from Atlanta who was a geology professor at GA State University.I don’t know Derrick but he probably has concentrated on his drag career most or his life as many drag queens do. Just don’t speak up if you can’t back it up. Like the black woman on Housewives from Atlanta who thought the Underground Railroad was an underground railroad.

  • batesmotel

    The average person today actually doesn’t know anything about Stonewall. They don’t know anything that happened more than five years ago. That’s the mentality today.

  • crowebobby

    I lived in New York and started going to the gay bars and bars clubs in 1957 at age 20. In 1961 and ’62 I worked as a chorus BOY in two of the best known drag shows in the states (The 82 Club followed by The Jewel Box Revue). Somehow I missed all the police raids and brutality, though I know beyond any shadow of the doubt that it all happened. I went to the Stonewall once, possible twice, but perhaps I was there on the wrong day or at the wrong hour, because I remember it as being just a big mostly-empty room where everyone was waiting for someone better to walk in the door. But I recall the lights flashing in the cellar of dance bars on out-of-the-way streets in out-of-the-way neighborhoods when a suspected cop appeared upstairs. The big Cherry Grove round-up happened just before I did a show there with Lynn Carter.

    I remember a burly detective pulling Dorian, a beautiful drag queen who worked at the 82 Club, away from a group of us coming out of the Ham & Eggs on 72nd Street and reaching up under her dress to verify his suspicion that she was a he. This was after he asked us if we wanted “a kick in the belly or a broken back.” (Dorian washed his face the cell toilet, making a mess of his make-up to convince the judge he had been just fooling around.) On the other hand, a uniformed officer kindly told me “You don’t want to go in there”when I was headed for the men’s room of the 42nd Street subway station where a mini-raid was going on. I found the universal attitude of hatred and ridicule towards anything gay more disturbing than the threat of arrest – a good friend in my home town gang sincerely thought the medical expression was “homosexfiend” though the member of our “gang” who was openly in love with one of the other guys was accepted without question. My father thought we were disgusting and sick though he would never have had a violent reaction to one of us being gay; my mother thought we were “more sinned against than sinning” but ludicrous all the same.

    I moved to Europe in ’62 and in later years experienced a couple of raids in both Paris and Rome, but the cops all treated the whole thing like a game, letting you know if there was another American or Englishman in the round-up, suggesting you might get lucky and assuring us we’d just have our papers checked and be back in the bar or park in an hour or so. Not that there weren’t homophobic cops in both countries, but the general attitude during these round-ups was lighthearted.

    For one thing, homosexuality wasn’t against the law in either country, though many Italians will argue with that; when they saw a gay man being picked up it was for either indecent exposure or public indecency, not because they were homosexual. Again, it was the local louts you had to watch out for, but I was big enough and butch “looking” enough to escape many close encounters of that kind.

    Yes, you often had to find sex partners in less that salubrious, sometimes dangerous conditions . . . though going into the pitch dark trailer of a truck parked on a wharf at 2 AM seemed more like Russian Roulette to me than cruising. I can understand the heightened thrill, but I never found the courage to try it; I had to see who I was involved with so I could fit them into the proper fantasy.

    This isn’t meant to suggest anything in the above article is untrue or exaggerated. It’s just to argue being gay wasn’t a never-ending, unmitigated horror show even in the bad old days. I quite enjoyed it.

    • crowebobby

      Very first sentence I meant (and originally had) gay bar and DANCE clubs.

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