Discophobia: Antigay Prejudice and the 1979 Backlash against Disco
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Discophobia:
Antigay Prejudice and the 1979 Backlash against Disco

On thursday, 12 july 1979, over seventy thousand people converged at Comiskey Park in Chicago for a doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. The stadium was filled beyond its capacity, marking the highest attendance of any White Sox home date in over a decade. Many of these spectators, however, were not there to watch the baseball games. Instead, they were gathered to witness the planned destruction of thousands of disco records during the intermission between the games. The evening was billed as Disco Demolition Night and was organized by a Chicago radio disc jockey named Steve Dahl in collaboration with Mike Veeck, the promotions manager for the White Sox. In the weeks prior to the game, Dahl invited his listeners to bring to the stadium the disco records that they would like to see destroyed. To encourage attendance, those who brought disco records were charged 98 cents admission, which was about a quarter of the regular ticket price. The price of tickets corresponded to the call numbers of the FM radio station where Dahl worked, WLUP-FM 98. The event was also billed as Teen Night, so many who did not bring disco records were still admitted at a discount. Of those who attended the game, over ten thousand deposited disco records at the turnstiles. Because so many people showed up with records, regular ticket holders were denied admission, and thousands of people were turned away from the gates but waited outside of the stadium to be near the event inside. Many spectators even climbed the gates to get in before the game started. In total, an estimated fifty-five thousand people filled the stadium, while another fifteen thousand gathered around [End Page 276] Comiskey Park. Another ten thousand attempting to get to the stadium were stuck in traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway.1

Inside the stadium the scene was unrestrained. Dozens of homemade banners emblazoned with slogans like "disco sucks" hung from the upper and lower balconies and were described by some observers as "obscene." As the first game progressed, groups of fans shouted various antidisco chants. By the fifth inning hundreds of disco records had been tossed down onto the field along with fireworks and trash. The field was covered with litter well before the break between the games. When the intermission began at 8:16 P.M., the crowd became increasingly rowdy. Many of the records being thrown were aimed at the players. Things became so disorderly that the White Sox players were locked in their clubhouse between games for their own protection. Tension reached its peak at 8:40 P.M., when Dahl, dressed in military fatigues and an army helmet, drove onto the field in a military-style jeep. He was accompanied by a blonde model named Lorelei who was known for her sexually provocative poses in WLUP's advertisements. The crowd then began to chant "disco sucks!" so loudly that they were clearly audible outside of the stadium. Those who had gathered around the stadium joined in the chant. Meanwhile, a giant crate filled with over fifty thousand disco records was placed in deep center field. The climax of the ceremony occurred when Dahl set off a row of large fireworks in front of the crate, which was followed by the detonation of a fireworks bomb that exploded the records and sent fragments flying.2

But the Disco Demolition wasn't quite finished. When the disco records exploded, the crowd erupted, rushing the field and rioting. An estimated seven thousand fans ran wild, lighting bonfires, tossing firecrackers in the audience, tearing up turf, and destroying the records themselves.3 Many of those who had been unable to get into the stadium crashed the gates, while [End Page 277] others milled around outside. The rioters destroyed the batting cage and the pitcher's mound and set several small fires. Other fans in the middle of the field set a large bonfire fueled by disco records and danced around the fire. At 9:08 P.M. the police department's tactical force rushed onto the field...