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The Stonewall of the South That History Forgot

On the night of August 5, 1969, Abby Drue arrived at the Ansley Mall Mini-Cinema in Atlanta for a screening of Andy Warhol's Lonesome Cowboys. Just a few months earlier, the film, a satire of old Hollywood westerns, made waves in the New York Times for its portrait of gay desire. Drue, a lesbian, wanted to witness it for herself.

Tucked inside an open-air shopping mall, Ansley’s Mini-Cinema lay on the border of the wealthy neighborhood Ansley Park, across the park from Atlanta’s main gay haunt at the time, Midtown. The theater, which regularly featured edgy indie films that locals maligned as pornographic, was known for its hospitality to the gay community. Although several miles removed from the earliest gay bars, Ansley's was the only place in town to watch a movie featuring same-sex attraction, according to Drue.

Around 15 minutes into the film, Drue heard a whistle. The theater lights switched on. Police officers rushed in through the aisles, shining flashlights into the audience. One officer shouted, “It's over!” A contemporaneous report in the underground counterculture newspaper Great Speckled Bird noted that ten policemen in total had arrived on the scene, with three lingering by the theater exits to catch patrons trying to slip out.

“They had everybody get up and line up,” Drue said. “We had popcorn in our mouths. I even think I had a submarine sandwich I was in the middle of eating. That's how absurd it was.”

Much of the audience, which according to a contemporary article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution numbered around 70 people in all, was left disoriented. But other patrons understood intuitively why the police had showed up. According to Drue, they screamed, “We're being raided!”

Read entire article at Smithsonian.com