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He was arrested at Stonewall, later went on to bake epic wedding cakes at Publix

A man who had a role in history was ‘very honest and true to himself’
In 2009, Raymond Castro, right, marched in the Pride Parade on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York City. (Photo courtesy Frank Sturniolo.)
Published Jun. 27
Updated Jun. 28

Editor’s note: Raymond Castro was arrested at the Stonewall riots in New York City 50 years ago this week. The fight between police and patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village is seen as a catalyst for the modern gay rights movement. Mr. Castro died in Madeira Beach at 68 of stomach cancer on Oct. 9, 2010. You can read his obituary from that year republished below. In recognition of the Stonewall anniversary, the Times caught up with Mr. Castro’s partner, Frank Sturniolo.

Ray Castro didn’t march in parades or sign petitions or write to politicians.

He baked.

Growing up in Harlem, the Puerto Rican boy started with Betty Crocker boxed mixes, then graduated to elaborate cakes with fountains in the middle. After moving to Florida in 1989, he designed and made cakes at Publix stores around Tampa Bay.

Mr. Castro was famous for those cakes among family and friends. For others, he’s famous because of the night he fought back.

On June 28, 1969, Mr. Castro happened to be at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. When police conducted yet another raid of the gay bar, Mr. Castro was arrested.

He resisted.

“He never really fought after that happened,” said Frank Sturniolo, Mr. Castro’s partner for 31 years. “It wasn’t like he was an activist. But he was very honest and true to himself, and he never hid who he was.”

Raymond Castro in the mid-1960s. Castro was a regular at The Stonewall Inn in 1969, finding a haven from a world where gay men and women could be arrested for kissing or holding hands in public. (Associated Press)

Nearly a decade later, Sturniolo walked across the dance floor at The Hot Line, a gay disco on Long Island, when his hands got entangled with those of a man who was dancing nearby.

It was Mr. Castro.

“I said to him, ‘Is this an invitation to dance?’ And then we were together ever since.”

RELATED: He was at Stonewall 50 years ago. In St. Petersburg, he remembers the before and after.

A few months later, the couple walked into an empty Catholic Church on Long Island with two gold wedding bands, made promises, kissed and considered themselves married.

Castro and Frank Sturniolo were together for 31 years. (Photo courtesy Frank Sturniolo)

Mr. Castro’s dream was for everyone to have the right to marry.

He didn’t live to see the Supreme Court rule, in 2015, that all states have to recognize same-sex marriage, but “I always felt like I was married to Ray, anyway, and it didn’t matter. It was a piece of paper to me,” Sturniolo said. “We did everything we were supposed to do legally to protect each other.”

RELATED: Code words, hiding in plain sight helped gay bars in Tampa endure history of harassment

Two years ago, Sturniolo remarried.

“I was very lucky to find somebody,” he said.

He thinks of Mr. Castro every day, particularly inside Publix.

As a young man, Castro designed and baked cakes for Entenmann's in New York. After moving to Florida in 1989, Castro brought his skills to Publix stores. (Photos courtesy Frank Sturniolo)

Back in 1978, after they exchanged rings, Mr. Castro and Sturniolo didn’t host a big celebration after they stepped out of that Long Island church.

But a year later, for their first anniversary, they did have a party at their home. Mr. Castro baked a cake.

It was three tiers, white with strawberry filling. And it included a surprise for Sturniolo on top – two tiny grooms inside a clear glass vase and doves holding a strip of silk with two gold wedding bands.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the number of years Sturniolo had been married.

Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Want to know more about other people who’ve recently died in Tampa Bay? Head over to Instagram and @werememberthem. Know someone who has recently died whom we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at epilogue@tampabay.com.

Editor’s note: The following story was originally published Oct. 21, 2010. It exists in our archives but not online. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, we’re sharing it again.

Pushing back helped spark a revolt

Ray Castro’s tussle with cops at the Stonewall rebellion played a big role in a turning point for gay rights.

By Andrew Meacham / Times Staff Writer

In the late 1960s, just being openly gay in America was a crime in many places. Authorities prohibited gay men and women from displaying any of the affections heterosexuals enjoyed - from kissing or dancing with each other or even holding hands.

New York was no exception, but there was one primary refuge: the Stonewall Inn, marked by a now-famous wooden door beneath a brick archway.

On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall - the third raid on gay bars in Greenwich Village over a two-week period, according to news accounts.

This time the crowd fought back. As some patrons were detained or herded to police wagons, hundreds of sympathetic bystanders hurled rocks, bottles and beer cans at officers. Some even used uprooted parking meters as missiles. Drag queens clubbed police with purses and fists.

In the center of the melee was Raymond Castro, a baker whose tussle with police incited a volatile crowd at a key moment, sparking six days of rioting and a creating a major turning point in the fight for gay rights.

Mr. Castro was arrested, but the charge was dropped. He resumed a quiet life, moving to Madeira Beach in 1989. Over the years, historians increasingly cited Stonewall as a watershed event in American culture, gaining Mr. Castro a revered status he had never sought.

Mr. Castro, who became an unwitting symbol of equal rights for gay people, died Oct. 9 of stomach cancer. He was 68.

"It must have been the motivation of the crowd that inspired me to resist," Mr. Castro told USA Today in 2009 for a story marking the 40th anniversary of Stonewall. "Or maybe at that point enough was enough."

Born in Puerto Rico, Mr. Castro moved to New York with his mother at age 5. He learned survival in his Spanish Harlem neighborhood.

"He was not afraid of anybody or anything," said Frank Sturniolo, Mr. Castro's partner of 31 years.

"Once, there was an effeminate boy in his school that a big guy picked on all the time," said Sturniolo, 50. "Ray said, 'Why don't you leave him alone?' The guy started to give him a hard time, so Ray picked up one of those chairs and hit him over the head with it."

Mr. Castro enjoyed baking and worked at Entenmann's for many years.

"He was a delightful man," said Jonathan Ned Katz, the co-director and founder of OutHistory.Org, a website run by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York. "I found him really down-to-earth and humble, and sort of surprised that he had become a historical figure. ... He was just an ordinary working-class guy."

Police raided the Stonewall Inn claiming that the club sold alcohol without a license, said David Carter, the author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution.

Mr. Castro showed his identification to an officer and was let go.

Once outside, Mr. Castro peered back inside the Stonewall through a window. A friend who lacked identification seemed to be signaling him for help. Mr. Castro tried to make his way back inside.

"He was accosted by a plainclothesman, who shoved him," Carter said. "Ray shoved back. He was tackled by a group of them."

A police report obtained by Katz last year through a Freedom of Information Law request and posted on OutHistory.Org alleges that Mr. Castro and two other defendants “did shove and kick the officer.”

Police escorted a handcuffed Mr. Castro outside, where a crowd chanted, "Let him go! Let him go!"

As the officers tried to load him into a police wagon, Mr. Castro pushed off the vehicle's door with both feet, taking two officers to the ground with him.

"It was fuel on the fire," said Carter. "I think it was critically important, one of the high points of the evening."

Decades later, those actions struck Katz as consistent with the man he interviewed last year.

"There was a spirit of resistance he communicated to me that was quite thrilling and simple, in a way, that he didn't want to take it anymore," said Katz. "The police were coming for no reason into a place where he was having a drink."

Sturniolo described his partner as a jovial and loyal friend with a prankster's sense of humor, who put as much energy into scaring co-workers with a fake mouse as he did scouring thrift shops for items someone else might need.

After moving to Madeira Beach, Mr. Castro took his culinary skills to Publix stores at Dolphin Village and Carillon. He could personalize cakes for any occasion, replicating boats or baseball fields from photos or applying buttercream icing that matched the pattern of a bridal gown.

While he celebrated gains made by gay and lesbian activists, Mr. Castro sometimes wondered if people who were born after Stonewall could appreciate what happened there.

"A lot of people, especially the young ones, have no inkling of what Stonewall is," he told a newspaper in June. "They think Gay Pride is just a big party."

Doctors diagnosed Mr. Castro with terminal cancer in 2008. Makers of Stonewall Uprising, a documentary based on Carter's book, flew Mr. Castro to New York last year to revisit the site of the Stonewall Inn, which still operates under different management. Minus his hair because of chemotherapy, he attended the film's opening in Miami in April, then took questions from the audience.

His death comes as several gay rights issues are in the national spotlight. While legal arguments over gay marriage and gays in the military are winding through the courts, the recent suicides of four teen boys have made those issues chillingly personal.

Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Billy Lucas and Asher Brown all had identified themselves as gay or bisexual. All died by suicide after allegations of bullying or cyberbullying by peers.

Forty-one years after Stonewall, their deaths remind gay rights supporters not to declare victory just yet.

"Since Stonewall, we've made amazing progress in establishing that homosexuals are human beings and as citizens they deserve rights," said Katz. "But it's clear that we still have very far to go and that there are still some elements in this society that don't think of homosexuals as human beings. Therefore they can harass them to death, literally."

Mourners flocked to Mr. Castro's funeral on Monday at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seminole.

They remembered a man whose fighting spirit helped launch a movement.

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