Forty Years After Stonewall

Tim McCarthy: The most important thing about the Stonewall riots or rebellion depending on which terminology you use is that it creates an origin myth. It gives gay people, LGBT people, an origin myth and all social movements need to understand and to acknowledge and identify their point of origin and so for us it’s Stonewall.

One of the things that I think this does is it gives us a kind of collective sense of identity that we all come from where the spirit of rebellion emerged in this place that we can identify. It’s tangible. We can see it. We visited it. We visited it over the weekend here on the 40th anniversary and so it’s a place that we all know even if we weren’t all there. But the other flip side of that - the problem with that- is that it then makes it seem as if history is divided into everything that happened before Stonewall and everything that happened afterwards as if history is kind of neatly divided according to this sort of point of origin. I think that one of the things that that’s done frankly in the public imagination and in the LGBT community as it understands its history is that it diminishes the efforts, often quiet, often invisible, often full of real struggle of what really did happen before this explosive origin of the modern gay rights movement or gay liberation.

There were decades, if not centuries, of struggles that LGBT people even if they weren’t called lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender at that time but they went through to establish and live lives of dignity against forces of great oppression and discrimination. In particular the couple of decades before the late ‘60s, the ‘40s and ‘50s and early 60’s was a period of great mobilization, a great organizing of the establishment of our first newspapers and our print culture, the establishment of founding offers as far as our political organizations, the first even public protest, the republic protest against discrimination  in federal employment and in federal agencies and in the military long before the folks rose up at Stonewall in June of 1969.

So one of the things that I seek to do as a historian, and there are many historians who had written about this -  ohn D'Amelio and George Chauncey, Estelle Freedman, many, many historians and scholars who have written about this history but it has not taken hold yet I don’t think in the broad public imagination not even within the LGBT community and certainly beyond it. This history is not known. One of the things that I’ve been talking about recently to my students and to my colleagues is that, you know, before the all of the media attention around the 40th anniversary of Stonewall that has gotten some political attention too recently with Obama inviting activists and leaders to the White House is that you know you would ask 6 months ago if you’ve taken a public opinion poll of certainly young LGBT folks. I’m not sure what the percentage would be of those who would have known Stonewall, what Stonewall was, when it happened, and that there was an anniversary and I think that that’s a troubling reality, who knows.

We haven’t done that opinion poll but my sense would be that you know not a considerable majority would have even known what that history is and if you compare that say to African-American young folks right, my black students at Harvard who all of them know what the Montgomery boy… bus boycott was. All of them know what Brown versus Board of Education was, right? And they also know Plessy versus Ferguson and which Brown versus Board of Education overturned.  So they know their history. In fact, it would be hard for us to find any student at Harvard University who doesn’t know what the Montgomery bus boycott was or the Brown versus Board of Education decision and the impact that it had and the origin that it created or established for the civil rights movement and I think the LGBT movement and its scholars and it’s intellectuals and it’s activists need to do a better job of establishing that history and to…and integrating it into the broad public imagination. Moments like the anniversary of Stonewall give us that opportunity.

 

Recorded on: July 1, 2009

Historian Tim McCarthy sees pros and cons to using the riots as a point of origin for the gay rights movement.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Hold your breath at Marble Arch!

Air pollution up to five times over the EU limit in Central London hotspots

popular
  • Dirty air is an invisible killer, but an effective one.
  • A recent study estimates that more than 9,000 people die prematurely in London each year due to air pollution.
  • This map visualises the worst places to breathe in Central London.

The Great Smog of 1952

London used to be famous for its 'pea-soupers': combinations of smoke and fog caused by burning coal for power and heating.

All that changed after the Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions created a particularly dense and persistent layer of pollution. For a number of days, visibility was reduced to as little as one foot, making traffic impossible. The fog even crept indoors, leading to cancellations of theatre and film showings. The episode wasn't just disruptive and disturbing, but also deadly: according to one estimate, it directly and indirectly killed up to 12,000 Londoners.

Invisible, but still deadly

Image: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

After the shock of the Great Smog, the UK cleaned up its act, legislating to replace open coal fires with less polluting alternatives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is hoping for a repeat of the movement that eradicated London's smog epidemic, but now for its invisible variety.

The air in London is "filthy, toxic", says Khan. In fact, poor air quality in the British capital is a "public health crisis". The city's poor air quality is linked not just to thousands of premature deaths each year, but also to a range of illnesses including asthma, heart disease and dementia. Children growing up in areas with high levels of air pollution may develop stunted lungs, with up to 10% less capacity than normal.

Image: Transport for London

ULEZ phases 1 and 2, and LEZ

Khan has led a very active campaign for better air quality since his election as London Mayor in 2016. Some of the measures recently decided:

  • Transport for London has introduced 2,600 diesel-electric hybrid buses, which is said to reduce emissions by up to 40%.
  • Mr Khan has pledged to spend £800 million on air quality over a five-year period.
  • Uber fares will rise by 15p (20¢) to help drivers buy electric cars.
  • Since the start of 2018, all new single-decker buses are zero-emission and all new taxis must be hybrid or electric.
  • Mr Khan has added a T-charge on the most toxic vehicles entering the city. On 8 April, the T-charge will be replaced by an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), contiguous with the Congestion Charge Zone.
  • The ULEZ is designed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by charging vehicles who don't meet stringent exhaust emission standards.
  • By October 2020, a Low-Emission Zone (LEZ), applicable to heavy commercial vehicles, will cover most of Greater London.
  • By October 2021, the ULEZ will expand to cover a greater part of Central London.

Central London's worst places for breathing

Image: Steven Bernard / Financial Times

Heathrow (bottom left on the overview map) is another pollution hotspot

What worries experts is that despite considerable efforts already made, levels of air pollution stubbornly refuse to recede – and remain alarmingly high in locations where traffic flows converge.

It's not something you'd think of, given our atmosphere's fluctuating nature, but air pollution hotspots can be extremely local – as this map demonstrates.

One important lesson for all Londoners: don't inhale at Marble Arch! Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are five times the EU norm – the highest in the city. Traffic permitting, quickly cross Cumberland Gate to Speakers' Corner and further into Hyde Park, where levels sink back to a 'permissible' 40 milligrams per cubic meter. Now you can inhale!

Almost as bad: Tower Hill (4.6 times the EU norm) and Marylebone Road (4 times; go to nearby Regent's Park for relief).

Also quite bad: the Strand (3.9), Piccadilly Circus (3.8), and Hyde Park Corner (also 3.8), Victoria (3.7) and Knightsbridge (3.5), the dirty trio just south of Hyde Park.

Elephant & Castle is the only pollution hotspot below the Thames and, perhaps because it's relatively isolated from other black spots, also the one with the lowest multiplication factor (2.8 times the maximum level).

On the larger map, the whole of Central London, including its relatively NO2-free parks, still shows up as more polluted than the outlying areas. Two exceptions flare up red: busy traffic arteries; and Heathrow Airport (in the bottom left corner).

Image: Mike Malone, CC BY SA 4.0

Traffic congestion on London's Great Portland Street

So why is Central London's air pollution problem so persistent? In part, this is because the need for individual transport in cars seems to be inelastic. For example, the Congestion Charge has slashed the number of vehicles entering Central London by 30%, but the number of (CC-exempt) private-hire vehicles entering that zone has quadrupled over the same period.

Cycling has really taken off in London. But despite all pro-cycling measures, a wide range of other transport options and car-dissuading measures, central London is still a very congested place. Average traffic speeds on weekdays has declined to 8 miles (13 km) per hour – fittingly medieval speeds, as the road network was largely designed in medieval times.

Narrow streets between high buildings, filled to capacity with slow-moving traffic are a textbook recipe for semi-permanent high levels air pollution.

The large share of diesel vehicles on London's streets only increases the problem. Diesel vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than petrol cars, which is why their introduction was promoted by European governments.

However, diesels emit higher levels of the highly toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2) than initial lab tests indicated. Which is why they're being phased out now.

As bad as Delhi, worse than New York

Image: Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

By some measures, London's air quality is almost as bad as New Delhi's.

By some measures, especially NO2, London's air pollution is nearly as bad as big Asian cities such as Beijing or New Delhi, and much worse than other developed cities such as New York and Madrid.

The UK is bound to meet pollution limits as set down in the National Air Quality objectives and by EU directives, for example for particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide.

  • Particulate matter (PM2.5) consists of tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter emitted by combustion engines. Exposure to PM2.5 raises the mortality risk of cardiovascular diseases. The target for PM2.5 by 2020 is 25 µg/m3. All of London currently scores higher, with most areas at double that level.
  • Mainly emitted by diesel engines, NO2 irritates the respiratory system and aggravates asthma and other pre-existing conditions. NO2 also reacts with other gases to form acid rain. The limit for NO2 is 40 µg/m3, and NO2 levels must not exceed 200 µg/m3 more than 18 times a year. Last year, London hit that figure before January was over.

Google joins fight against air pollution

Image: laszlo-photo, CC BY SA 2.0

Elephant & Castle, London.

Studies predict London's air pollution will remain above legal limits until 2025. Sadiq Khan – himself an asthma sufferer – is working to make London's air cleaner by measures great and small. Earlier this week, he announced that two of Google's Street View cars will be carrying air quality sensors when mapping the streets of London

Over the course of a year, the two cars will take air quality readings every 30 metres in order to identify areas of London with dangerous levels of air pollution that might be missed by the network of fixed sensors. An additional 100 of those fixed sensors will be installed near sensitive locations and known pollution hotspots, doubling the network's density.

It's all part of Breathe London, a scheme to map the British capital's air pollution in real time. Breathe London will be the world's largest air quality monitoring network, said Mr Khan, launching the scheme at Charlotte Sharman Primary School in the London borough of Southwark.

Up to 30% of the school's pupils are said to be asthma sufferers. Charlotte Sharman is close to Elephant & Castle, as the above map shows, one of Central London's air pollution hotspots.

Keep reading Show less

The most culturally chauvinist people in Europe? Greeks, new research suggests

Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

Image: Pew Research Center
Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
  • British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
Keep reading Show less

To remember something, draw it

It works better than other memorization techniques.

(Sticker Mule/Unsplash)
Mind & Brain
  • Drawing something that you want to remember is more effective than using other memory techniques
  • For older people with dementia or Alzheimer's, drawing stores memories in still-intact regions of the brain
  • Even if you're terrible at drawing, it's the neurological underpinnings that make it worth a try
Keep reading Show less