Remembering the Fight.
As hundreds of thousands of members of the LGBTQ+ community take to the streets in June, celebrating Pride Month across the country, and around the world, it’s important to reflect on the history behind these celebrations. Widely regarded as the turning point and inspiration for the modern-day equality battle, no single event was more pivotal for the community, than the events that unfolded in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village, New York, at the Stonewall Inn.
Above: The exterior of the Stonewall Inn, the centerpiece of the riots on June 28, 1969.
The Stonewall Inn, owned by the Genovese crime family, was the only bar for gay men in New York City, where dancing was allowed. The bar had no fire exits, no running water behind the bar, and no liquor license, but due to its mix of ages, races, sexualities, and gender identities, it was known by many as “the gay bar in the city”. Attending the Stonewall Inn required meeting a bouncer at the door, who inspected patrons through a peephole, to avoid letting in undercover police. To be granted admission, patrons had to be known by the doorman, or “look gay”. Customers paid a $3 entry fee, which entitled them to two tickets that could be exchanged for drinks. The employees at Stonewall used a light system to alert patrons that police were spotted outside. Immediately the regular, overhead lights would be turned on to signal that everyone should stop dancing or touching.
Above: For five days after the initial riot occurred, protests spilled into the streets, with crowds of hundreds and sometimes thousands of members of the community.
Police raids were quite common of these underground LGBTQ establishments. The bar owners typically paid off the cops to limit the raids to occurring early in the evening, so that business could start up again once it was completed. The owners usually knew about the raids from people that would tip them off that something was going to happen. What transpired around 1:20am on Saturday, June 28, 1969 was something that nobody could have predicted.
Earlier in the evening, 4 undercover police officers entered Stonewall to observe the activities, while the Public Morals Squad waited outside. Once inside, the officers used the bar’s payphone to call for backup. Music was stopped and the overhead lights were turned on. Typically, during a raid, the police would line up all the patrons, check identification, and anybody dressed as a woman was taken to the bathroom to verify their sex. However, this night wasn’t like the rest. People refused to go to the bathrooms to be inspected, and men in line began to refuse to show their identification. The police decided that everyone still inside the bar was going to be brought down to the police station. The patrons that had managed to escape at the beginning of the raid, instead of going immediately home, began to congregate outside. In just a few short minutes, the crowd grew to 100-150 people.
Above: One year after the Stonewall Riots, the community organized the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, recognized as the first Gay Pride march in the United States (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)
The crowd grew restless outside, as rumors of police beating patrons still inside the bar began to swirl. According to bystanders, a woman was being escorted from the bar in handcuffs. She escaped multiple times, fought with the officers, and had been hit on the head with a baton for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight. Her identity remains unconfirmed, however witnesses recall her looking at the crowd of people, and shouting “Why don’t you guys do something?” It was at this moment that the group, which now numbered upwards of 500 people, turned into an enraged mob.
Ten police officers, and several handcuffed patrons, attempted to barricade themselves inside Stonewall for their safety. The crowd began throwing anything they could find at the building, lighting garbage on fire and putting it through the broken windows. The crowd also uprooted a parking meter to use as a battering ram on the doors of Stonewall. After 45 minutes, the fire department and riot squad arrived to rescue those inside Stonewall and to disperse the crowd. The protests continued on Christopher Street and in nearby Christopher Street Park for five more days. All 3 major New York newspapers covered the protests, which sometimes numbered in the thousands, after accounts of the riots were published.
After the riots, many members of the community who previously felt that they had no voice, now felt empowered. The creation of many LGBTQ organizations sprouted as a result of this new era of feeling. Among them, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA). In addition, within months, 3 newspapers specifically targeted to the community were created in the city, after The Village Voice, refused to print the word “gay” in GLF advertisements. The first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots was recognized as Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 with an assembly outside, as well as other marches in Los Angeles and Chicago, showcasing the first Gay Pride marches in the United States.
Above: After the horrific Pulse massacre shooting in Orlando, Florida, many people visited the Stonewall Inn to honor the victims, just weeks before President Obama made his National Monument designation. (Photo courtesy of NPR)
On June 24, 2016, President Barack Obama officially designated the Stonewall National Monument, the United States’ first National Monument specifically created as an LGBTQ historic site. The National Monument status is 7.7 acres, including the Stonewall Inn, Christopher Street Park, and the block of Christopher Street that borders the park. In his announcement of the designation, President Obama stated, “…Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights. I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country, the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us…”
While June is a month of celebration of for members of our community, it’s imperative to remember the brothers and sisters that were fed up with the current state of affairs and took to the streets, acting as the catalyst that launched LGBTQ discrimination into the mainstream. Let us never forget the courage and bravery that they demonstrated, to help us fight for the equality that we deserve.
This is the view of the author and may or may not be the view of Pride matters or any other authors.