It was early in the morning on June 28 in 1969. New York City cops raided the Stonewall Inn, a small gay bar in Greenwich Village. The bar was owned by organized crime, and catered to a diverse crowd of the community, including drag queens, male street hustlers, homeless gay youth and an emerging transgender population.
Back in 1969, homosexuality in public was illegal in the NYC, so there were few places where gay people could gather. Private businesses and bars that allowed them to congregate were regularly targeted for raids and closure.
But that night, the patrons in Stonewall said NO!
Whatever the trigger this time, they decided: enough is enough. They fought back, which was historic. But that was just the beginning.
A crowd, estimated around 400 people, formed outside the bar to watch as the police accosted the patrons, and arresting the bartender, the doorman and some of the drag queens. Over the next several nights, the protestors grew to thousand. They gathered, and chanted “Gay Power.” More police were called in for crowd control. At some point, beer bottles and other objects were hurled at the police and garbage cans were set on fire, almost symbolic of the flame of resistance that was ignited by those many considered trash.
The protests would last for days, and is now called The Stonewall Riots. More importantly, it’s considered by most as the birth of the gay rights movement.
In the weeks that followed, residents of Greenwich Village organized into groups to challenge the NYC discrimination laws and to encourage gay and lesbian people to come out into the open. One of those groups was the Gay Liberation Front, which is believed to the first group to use the word “gay” in their name. Newspapers and targeted publications were also created to mobilize and educate the gay and lesbian community.
The following year, on June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York to commemorate the anniversary of the riots.
Side Note: If you’ve ever wonder why Gay Pride is held in June, now you know!
Today, the Stonewall bar is still a popular gay night spot in New York City, and is on the National Historic Landmark registry.
In his 2013 Inaugural speech, President Obama made reference the Stonewall Inn, the first time a President has mentioned gay rights during such a speech:
"We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall..."
I think remembering Stonewall is significant. On those nights, 45 years ago, the desire for equality was ignited, and the flame illuminates us today. We continue to work for the dream of those brave pioneers. Recognition. Acceptance. Dignity. Equality!
Personal Note: The first time I visited the Stonewall Inn, I was overwhelmed at my sense of connection with the past. A sense of gratitude and empowerment swept over me. It was at that moment I proposed to my partner. It’s still not legal for us to marry, but I am hopeful that one day, the full equality that began at Stonewall will be realized!
Part of this post was originally published on a previous blog, and has been revised and updated.