Everyone at GLAAD was extremely saddened to learn about the death of Stonewall veteran Ray Castro this weekend, at the age of 68. Ray died in his hometown of Madeira Beach, Florida, on Saturday, October 9. He is survived by his husband of 31 years, Frank Sturniolo, 50. On June 27, 1969, Castro was inside the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street on the first night of the Stonewall uprising and is documented as the only person arrested that evening who was known to be gay, according to historian David Carter.
From the press release we issued on behalf of his family:
Although police raids of gay-friendly bars were sadly common at the time, on that night people fought back. As two officers were escorting Castro out of the bar, the crowd shouted, "Let him go, let him go," and he pushed against the waiting patrol wagon with both feet, knocking the two cops to the ground. He was put in the back of the vehicle, arrested, and charged with various crimes, but was later released*. He hired a lawyer to resist the charge against him in court and also his lawyer represent an arrested lesbian who was in the patrol wagon with him. Typical of his generosity, he did not let the lesbian assist in paying the attorney who represented them. That night’s events, including Castro’s struggle against police, gave birth to the modern gay civil rights movement.
Although he was at the center of the incident that sparked the movement, Ray Castro lived a quiet humble life in Florida for decades with his loving husband Frank. Originally from Puerto Rico, Castro moved to New York when he was 5, living in Manhattan and later Long Island. He spent his career as a baker and wedding cake designer and brightened the lives of everyone he knew with his magnetic personality. Ironically he attended baking school in the Greenwich Village building on 13th Street that now houses the NYC LGBT Center. He was a warm-hearted generous man who cared about his neighbors and his community.
Castro was recently featured in the PBS American Experience documentary, Stonewall Uprising, based on David Carter’s book, Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. Directed by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, the film was released in theaters this past summer prior to the film's broadcast on PBS stations nationwide this coming April.
David Carter said that all the evidence he collected about the event made him sure that Castro's resistance to his arrest, taking place in public soon after the occurrence of the evening's tipping point--the unknown lesbian who fought the police outside the Stonewall Inn and twice escaped a patrol car she was placed into--helped guarantee that the resistance to the police raid became both massive and violent, and thus had the power to become a transforming symbol of LGBT consciousness: the Stonewall Riots.
Ray visited New York City in June to celebrate the 41st Anniversary of Stonewall and attend the 40th annual gay pride parade. The New York Daily News featured his story at that time, quoting Castro as saying:
"A lot of people, especially the young ones, have no inkling what Stonewall is. They think Gay Pride is just a big party.
"None of this would have been possible if it wasn't for 1969.
"I had no idea that I was going to be involved in history-making. ... I would do it all over again."
According to friends and family, Castro’s death was the result of an infection caused by damage to his immune system as a result of the chemotherapy he received for stomach cancer. He was going through his third round of treatment.
A funeral is scheduled this weekend in Seminole, Florida, near Madeira Beach.
GLAAD worked closely with Ray earlier this year during Pride month when he returned to New York for the city's 40th annual Pride parade. You can read the Daily News profile of him here.
* (Our initial press release has been updated to make a small correction to this version of that night's events.)