In his “U.S. Lesbian and Gay History” lecture Tuesday, George Chauncey ’77 GRD ’89 drew parallels between the early Saturday morning raid of the Morse-Stiles screw at Elevate Lounge and the raids of gay and lesbian bars throughout the mid-20th century.
Both the gay and lesbian population of the mid-20th century and the college-age patrons of New Haven establishments were, Chauncey said, “criminalized” prior to their respective raids so that the actions would seem justifiable and even necessary. Such raids on gay clubs began after some event destabilized social order, he said, much like the College Street shooting last month that triggered “Operation Nightlife.” After the shooting, Chauncey said, disorderly, intoxicated young people were demonized as a central cause of downtown’s problems.
“Students were outraged, as well you should be; the administration was outraged, as well it should be,” Chauncey said. “Yale students aren’t supposed to be seen as lawbreakers. They’re supposed to be seen as the next generation of lawmakers.”
For gays and lesbians, Chauncey said, such raids were a common experience. Chauncey said there was a “generation of gay people who knew nothing else.” Those who frequented gay bars were accustomed to the sudden arrival of police officers, who would turn up the lights, check IDs and take down patrons’ names. These revelers also faced the potential of a “check” that followed the raid. Police would occasionally call employers or landlords following the raid just to check in on their identity.