Every year, in the weeks leading up to Pride Week, Martin Boyce and Danny Garvin’s phones start ringing off the hook.
“Martin here. Yup, that was me at Stonewall, June 28, 1969.”
“Yes, this is the Danny who was at the riots.”
And on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Mr. Boyce, 64, and Mr. Garvin, 63, were bombarded by even more press than usual. “I was like a puppet on a string,” Mr. Boyce said. “Anytime somebody bumped into me on the street I’d go right into ‘So I was walking towards Stonewall with my friends Birdie and Tommy…’”.
While many of the rioters from that night fell victim to drugs or the AIDS crises in the ’80s, Mr. Boyce and Mr. Garvin are two of less than twenty confirmed survivors, calling themselves the Stonewall Veterans. They’ve been immortalized in David Carter’s Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, saluted in the PBS documentary Stonewall Uprising and have been invited as guest speakers to participate in discussions on the gay rights movement over the four decades since. And on days like today, when NYC Pride takes to the streets and the riots’ anniversary is marked by the Pride Parade, which noncoincidentally ends on Christopher street right next to Stonewall, their contributions to the gay rights movement is brought to the forefront once again.
Mr. Boyce spends nearly every day in Central Park, across from the Bow Bridge, in a shady benched area called the Ramble, where members of the gay community have been known to congregate. In his teenage years, he painted on eyeliner and glittery lipstick in hopes that straight people would take notice of him and his peers.
“In 1966, I was extremely frustrated with the way gays were treated,” Mr. Boyce said. “That’s why I went into scare drag—not because there was a need to or because there was a woman inside of me. I just thought, like they did in Hollywood, you should emphasize and at least get a reaction from these people.”
And Mr. Boyce would do just that. Him and his friends would go to museums, the zoo or wherever they could find large amounts of straight people. They’d dress in scare drag (think Boy George) and try to speak eloquently in hopes of enlightenment or—if nothing else—to agitate. But the late ’60s was not ready for “I’m here and I’m queer” and their outings would often result in ridicule or, worse, violence. He was astonished by how the littlest drop of eyeliner would make people go mad, but by the Post-Stonewall mid ’70s he felt he had no reason to shock, the word was out. If he was going to fight now it would be with political action.
Today he wears no make-up. He’s handsome, spirited and appears every bit as masculine as anyone else in Central Park, except when he sometimes erupts into a fit of laughter.