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Rebel Looks Back 40 Years After Stonewall Riots

Raymond Castro was a regular at The Stonewall Inn in 1969, finding it a haven from a world where gay men and women could be arrested for kissing or holding hands in public. Inside the bar, where plywood covered the windows, warning lights served as a signal for couples to stop dancing.

When police raided the bar in the past for selling liquor without a license, patrons normally submitted to arrest or dispersed quietly. But on June 28, Castro recalled, people fought back.

As officers tried to throw him in a police wagon, Castro used the vehicle as a spring to push back, knocking them to the ground.

"They literally carried me into the ... wagon and threw me in there," recalled Castro, now 67. "It must've been the motivation of the crowd that inspired me to resist. Or maybe at that point enough was enough."

The several days of disturbances that followed the uprising at the bar in Manhattan's Greenwich Village became one of the defining moments of the gay rights movement.

This year, thousands of people are converging on the city for gay pride events to mark the riots' 40th anniversary, while a bill is pending in the state Legislature to make New York the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Castro said the demonstrations became a catalyst for years of progress allowing gays and lesbians to live more open lives — although he did not see it at the time of the riots.

"I never thought 40 years ago that it would turn out to be much of anything," he said in a telephone interview. "I had no clue of history being made."

Castro, who now lives in Madeira Beach, Florida, outside St. Petersburg, is far removed from Stonewall. But his name surfaced in newly released New York Police Department reports documenting arrests during the riots. The reports had previously redacted names of some arrested on the first night, but were obtained in May under the Freedom of Information Law by OutHistory.Org, a Web site run by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York.

Another name that appears in police reports for the first time is that of Marilyn Fowler, confirming earlier accounts that a woman was one of the main instigators of initial resistance to police.

"There are many witnesses to the Stonewall riots who say a woman, a lesbian presumably, played an important role in intensifying the resistance when they tried to arrest her and put her in the wagon," said Jonathan Ned Katz, the Web site's director, who recently obtained the documents. "It's a very important name to be discovered."

And for Castro, the name refutes other long-held beliefs that the Stonewall demonstrators were all white gay men.

"It wasn't just gays," said Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico and left in 1945. "It wasn't just white gays."

"You had straight people sympathetic to gays. People of the arts. You had people who had had enough (of the police). You had Latinos, you had blacks, you had whites, Chinese, you had everything. It was a melting pot. Young, old. Fems, butches."

Castro recalled being arrested with a woman on June 28 but did not remember her name. He was arrested on a harassment charge, according to the police report, that was later dismissed.

"Defendants ... did shove and kick the officer ..." reads the report, one of nine NYPD documents Katz posted on the Web site.

It was hot and humid the night police officers raided the inn for selling liquor without a license. Police estimated 200 patrons were thrown out of Stonewall, according to a June 29, 1969, New York Times article.

After the raid, the crowd outside the Stonewall swelled to about 400, according to the Times account, citing police estimates.

Police were "attempting to leave premises with prisoners" when "they were confronted by a large crowd who attempted to stop them from removing prisoners. The crowd became disorderly," read a copy of the NYPD complaint.

Four police officers were injured, including one with a broken wrist, according to the Times, which described the scene as a "rampage" by hundreds of young men. Thirteen people were arrested that first night on charges including harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest, the story says.

As the raid moved outside, with people hurling coins, stones, garbage and insults at the police, Castro was somehow pushed back inside the bar, where police held him and others. After a while, two police officers escorted him out of the bar in handcuffs, he said, before he pushed back as he was escorted into the wagon.

There are little reminders of Stonewall in Manhattan's Greenwich Village today. The building was designated a national landmark in 1999, and currently houses a bar unaffiliated with the inn.

At the time, Castro says, patrons would usually knock to get into the Christopher Street inn, while someone inside peered through a peephole to size up the visitor.

"If you were one of us they'd let you in," Castro said. "If you were straight or you looked like a cop they'd say 'private club."'

In 1972 Castro left New York City for suburban Long Island, where he met his partner of 30 years, Frank Sturniolo, in a disco. By 1989, the couple had settled in Florida, said Castro, who retired from his job as a decorator in an Entenmann's bakery specialty shop.

Castro, who is battling stomach cancer, marveled at the progress for gay rights over the past four decades. In the 1970s, major psychiatric associations removed homosexuality from their lists of mental disorders. The country has more than 400 openly gay and lesbian elected officials, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a political action committee.

Still, Castro and other gay rights advocates say there is more work to be done. A federal law allowing states to ban or refuse recognition of same-sex marriages remains in place. So too doest the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Under that policy, the military does not ask recruits about their sexual orientation, while service members are banned from saying they are gay or engaging in homosexual activity.

To Castro's disappointment, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment last November banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, as did voters in other states, including California.

"I hope that I see it in Florida some day," he said.