Ahead of Billboard Pride Summit, Activist Jim Fouratt Looks Back On Stonewall: 'It Changed My Life'

Jim Fouratt
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Jim Fouratt photographed at the Stonewall National Monument's Christopher Park, in New York's Greenwich Village on June 3, 2019. 

Of the hundreds of people at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village the night of June 27, 1969 -- a historic turning point in the gay rights movement -- Jim Fouratt, 78, may be the only one who went on to have a long career in the music business. A lifelong activist who co-founded the Yippies and the Gay Liberation Front and was heavily involved with ACT UP and the fight for AIDS research, Fouratt also helped run clubs including Hurrah, Danceteria, the Peppermint Lounge and Studio 54; co-managed artists as diverse as Richard Lloyd and Ornette Coleman; and worked at Columbia Records, Mercury Records and Rhino Records.   

You have said what happened at Stonewall that night was not a riot, because it wasn’t that violent, nor an uprising, because it wasn’t preplanned, but a rebellion.

It was a rebellion [against] internalized homophobia. You grow up in a homophobic world [with a] hatred of homosexuals. No matter how out you are, there’s still all that contradiction inside. That night, for me and for many other people who were there, it was a flashpoint moment. We looked at each other in a very different way. We saw full human beings, not potential sex relationships. And that moment changed my life.

What was it like then working as a gay man in the music business?

The music business was incredibly closeted. Nobody was gay or lesbian to the world. I’m not going to name names, but there were powerful people both in management and at record labels [who were queer]. But nobody was out.

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
Jim Fouratt

From a music business perspective, what is the Stonewall legacy?

My goal always was an integration of personhood and sexuality. The closet separated those, so you could never be the same person all the time -- certainly [not] in the music business. It’s a world that doesn’t exist in the same way today because of Stonewall.

In June, you and visual artist Joel Handorff, 74, were married -- at the Stonewall National Monument.

I had a political reason for getting married. It was really important right now because [of the battle over] women’s right to choose and control their bodies, which is under severe attack. The right to marry for same-sex people is also going to be under attack because of the same political force that has gone after women. [But also] I started to listen to my heart. I had fallen in love with this man, a smart and wonderful painter with an incredible spirit. And I said, “Why not?”

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 10 issue of Billboard.