Few songs serve as a time capsule for a specific moment in time, reminding audiences of important events and historical context that aid in remembering how far a community has come in the fight for equal rights. Though the queer community still has a long way to go, incredible progress has been made since the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and Madeline Davis’s song “Stonewall Nation” serves as a rallying cry for that progress.
Davis, a singer, songwriter, activist, and documentarian, played a significant role in the gay liberation movement for over 50 years. Born in Buffalo, New York in 1940, she did not come out until the early 1960s, when she discovered a thriving gay and lesbian community in her city. In 1970, she joined the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, an early LGBTQ+ organization in the United States.
She began contributing to the cause by building a library for a community center, which later turned into the Fifth Freedom magazine, and unintentionally became a spokesperson for the gay liberation movement in Upstate New York when she delivered a powerful speech at a march in Albany.
In 1971, Davis co-wrote “Stonewall Nation” with Liz Caldwell, which became a rallying cry for the community and was sung at Buffalo’s first gay pride parade. The song’s opening lines, “I don’t wanna see my brothers kicked into the dust no more / Their dreams all turned to rust no more / I don’t wanna see my sisters having to give in no more / Their loving called a sin no more,” speak to the need for change and the grassroots nature of the movement.
The track highlights the bravery and resilience of queer individuals, and speaks to the exasperation of fighting for equal rights while still offering hope for anyone who listens to this folk-driven tune.
Davis’s legacy doesn’t end there. She later became president of the Mattachine Society of the Niagara Frontier, and in 1972, she was elected as the first openly lesbian delegate to a major national political convention.
Additionally, she co-formulated and taught the first course on lesbianism at a major US university, State University of New York in Buffalo, and co-authored the award-winning book “Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold.”
Though Madeline Davis passed away April 2021, she lives on as an influential figure in the gay rights movement and is considered an icon in Western New York. “Stonewall Nation”’s message of unity and resilience is a testament to her legacy and the impact of her activism, and its dreamy yet haunting vocals remind us all that there is always hope and a fight to be had for equality.
As we celebrate Pride season and continue to fight for equality and justice, we can look back to trailblazers like Madeline Davis and find inspiration in their words and actions. Her legacy as a musician, activist, educator, and community organizer serves as a powerful reminder of the impact that one person can make in the fight for social justice.