Stonewall Riots of 1969

On this day in 1969, in what is now regarded by many as history’s first major protest on behalf of equal rights for LGBTQ people, a police raid of the Stonewall Inn—a popular gay club located on New York City’s Christopher Street—turns violent as patrons and local sympathizers begin rioting against the authorities.

Although the police were legally justified in raiding the club, which was serving liquor without a license among other violations, New York’s gay community had grown weary of the police department targeting gay clubs, many of which had already been closed. 

Soon, the crowd began throwing bottles at the police. The protest spilled over into the neighboring streets, and order was not restored until the deployment of New York’s riot police sometime after 4 a.m. 

The Stonewall Riots were followed by several days of demonstrations in New York and was the impetus for the formation of the Gay Liberation Front as well as other gay, lesbian and bisexual civil rights organizations. The next year, in 1970, New York’s first official gay pride parade set off from Stonewall and marched up 6th Avenue. June was later designated LGBTQ Pride Month to commemorate the uprising. 

A timeline of what lead to the Stonewall riots:

June 24, 1969: Police arrest Stonewall employees, confiscate alcohol.

On the Tuesday before the riots began, police conducted an evening raid on the Stonewall, arresting some of its employees and confiscating its stash of illegal liquor. As with many similar raids, the police targeted the bar for operating without a proper liquor license.

After the raid, the NYPD planned a second raid for the following Friday, which they hoped would shut down the bar for good.

June 27-28, 1969: Stonewall crowd erupts after police arrest and rough up patrons.

After midnight on an unseasonably hot Friday night, the Stonewall was packed when eight plainclothes or undercover police officers (six men and two women) entered the bar. In addition to the bar’s employees, they also singled out drag queens and other cross-dressing patrons for arrest. In New York City, “masquerading” as a member of the opposite sex was a crime.

More NYPD officers arrived on foot and in three patrol cars. Meanwhile, bar patrons who had been released joined the crowds of onlookers that were forming outside the Stonewall. A police van, commonly known as a paddy wagon, arrived, and police began loading Stonewall employees and cross-dressers inside.

Early hours of June 28, 1969: Transgender women resist arrest. Bottles are thrown at police.

Accounts vary over exactly what kicked off the riots, but according to witness reports, the crowd erupted after police roughed up a woman dressed in masculine attire (some believe the woman was lesbian activist Stormé DeLarverie) who had complained that her handcuffs were too tight. People started taunting the officers, yelling “Pigs!” and “Copper!” and throwing pennies at them, followed by bottles; some in the crowd slashed the tires of the police vehicles.

According to David Carter, historian and author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, the “hierarchy of resistance” in the riots began with the homeless or “street” kids, those young gay men who viewed the Stonewall as the only safe place in their lives. 

Two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were said to have resisted arrest and thrown the first bottle (or brick or stone) at the cops, respectively. Although Johnson later said in a 1987 podcast interview with historian Eric Marcus that she had not arrived until the uprising was well underway. 

The exact breakdown of who did what first remains unclear—in part because this was long before the smartphone era and there was minimal documentation of the night’s events.

Close to 4 a.m. June 28, 1969: Police retreat and barricade themselves inside Stonewall.

As the paddy wagon and squad cars left to drop the prisoners off at the nearby Sixth Precinct, the growing mob forced the original NYPD raiding party to retreat into the Stonewall itself and barricade themselves inside. 

Some rioters used a parking meter as a battering ram to break through the door; others threw beer bottles, trash and other objects, or made impromptu firebombs with bottles, matches and lighter fluid.

Sirens announced the arrival of more police officers, as well as squadrons of the Tactical Patrol Force (TPF), the city’s riot police. As the helmeted officers marched in formation down Christopher Street, protesters outsmarted them by running away, then circling the short blocks of the Village and coming back up behind the officers.

Finally, sometime after 4 a.m., things settled down. Amazingly, no one died or was critically injured on the first night of rioting, though a few police officers reported injuries.

June 28-29: Stonewall reopens, supporters gather. Police beat and tear gas crowd.

Despite having been torn apart by the cops, the Stonewall Inn opened before dark the next night (though it wasn’t serving alcohol). More and more supporters showed up, chanting slogans like “gay power” and “we shall overcome.”

Again the police were called out to restore order, including an even larger group of TPF officers, who beat and tear gassed members of the crowd. This continued until the early hours of the morning, when the crowd dispersed.

June 29-July 1, 1969: Stonewall becomes gathering point for LGBT activists.

Over the next several nights, gay activists continued to gather near the Stonewall, taking advantage of the moment to spread information and build the community that would fuel the growth of the gay rights movement. Though police officers also returned, the mood was less confrontational, with isolated skirmishes replacing the large-scale riots of the weekend.

July 2, 1969: Gay activists protest newspaper coverage.

In response to the Village Voice’scoverage of the riots, which referred to “the forces of faggotry,” protesters swarmed outside the paper’s offices. Some called for burning the building down. When the police pushed back, rioting started again, but lasted only a short time, concluding by midnight.

The New York Daily News also resorted to homophobic slurs in its detailed coverage, running the headline: “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.” Meanwhile, the New York Times wrote only sparingly of the whole event, printing a short article on page 22 on June 30 titled “Police Again Rout ‘Village’ Youths.”

The lasting impact of the Stonewall Riots.

With Stonewall, the spirit of ‘60s rebellion spread to LGBT people in New York and beyond, who for the first time found themselves part of a community. Though the gay rights movement didn’t begin at Stonewall, the uprising did mark a turning point, as earlier “homophile” organizations like the Mattachine Society gave way to more radical groups like the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA).

June 28, 1970: First Gay Pride parade sets off from Stonewall.

On the first anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, gay activists in New York organized the Christopher Street Liberation March to cap off the city’s first Gay Pride Week. As several hundred people began marching up 6th Avenue toward Central Park, supporters from the crowd joined them. The procession eventually stretched some 15 city blocks, encompassing thousands of people.

Inspired by New York’s example, activists in other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, organized gay pride celebrations that same year. The frenzy of activism born on that first night at Stonewall would eventually fuel gay rights movements in Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, among other countries, becoming a lasting force that would carry on for the next half-century—and beyond. 

Donate to the Stonewall Community Foundation.

Source: History.com

Stonewall Live Stream Benefit

With Pride festivals around the world canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Pride Live is ready to celebrate the history of LGBTQ resistance with a special live event.

On Tuesday (June 23), Pride Live announced plans for their third annual Stonewall Day, this year taking place online instead of in-person at the Stonewall Inn. The livestream, which will take place on Friday, June 26, is set to benefit LGBTQ organizations that have been financially impacted during the coronavirus outbreak, including Brave Space AllianceTransLatin CoalitionTrans Lifeline, and The Ally Coalition.

“From Marsha P. Johnson’s revolution at Stonewall, to the recent murders of Dominique Fells and Riah Milton, the protection of trans people of color continues to be the litmus test of freedom and equal opportunities,” Dr. Yvette Burton, the board director of Pride Live, said in a statement. “Policies such as the Trump administration’s reversed protections for transgender people in the U.S. health-care system, adds the disproportionate effect of fatal violence, impacted by the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia across communities and families.”

Tune in to the Stonewall Day 2020 live stream on Logo’s YouTube and Facebook pages from 12:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET on Friday, June 26.

Stonewall’s 50th Anniversary a Topic in the Classroom

The history of the Stonewall’s riot remains largely forgotten—and unknown among young people. In the cultural imagination, it remains shrouded in myth. But the true Stonewall story can be taught.

It was just past 1:00 a.m. in New York City on Saturday, June 28, 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn. Patrons wouldn’t have been surprised when the officers arrived—LGBTQ-friendly bars were regularly raided. Ostensibly, these raids were to punish those selling liquor without a license or to arrest those “soliciting homosexual relations.” In reality, they were often used to justify the detention or humiliation of LGBTQ people.

We know that people gathered outside on Christopher Street, where those released from the Stonewall Inn met up with allies from the neighborhood and nearby bars. We know that the crowd (which at one point formed a “can-can” line directed toward officers) grew angry as police used brute force and billy clubs against lesbian and trans women showing the least bit of resistance. We know that early on, the crowd threw trash and coins―a nod to the payoffs that could sometimes be counted on to prevent such raids.

What graduated this tense standoff into several nights of violent uprising remains a point of contention. Coins and trash became bricks and flaming cocktails. Windows were shattered. And if the violence had ever truly been contained to just the police officers and those they were arresting, it soon wasn’t. We don’t know for certain who threw the first brick, the first Molotov cocktail or the first punch, but we do know this: The protesters at Stonewall weren’t just fighting back against this single act of violent injustice. They were standing up against a system of repeated oppression, humiliation and dehumanization.

The fight that took place on Christopher Street is often called a riot; other times, it’s labeled an uprising. No matter the word attached to what happened at Stonewall, this much is clear: It was a refusal to give in to law enforcement’s demands and go quietly.

Why This History Matters

On a micro level, the Stonewall raid represented an attack on LGBTQ people’s right to be themselves in public. It wasn’t the first. Genny Beemyn, the director of The Stonewall Center at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, explains that the queer community at the time faced regular police raids of their communal spaces. They couldn’t socialize openly.

“It was a community fighting back that had had enough of police brutality and being oppressed,” Beemyn says.

On a macro level, the raid represented the criminalization of queer identities. LGBTQ people were not just detained for going out in public. They were often imprisoned for what they did in private. It’s hard to understand the uprising’s intensity without fully appreciating those stakes.

Teaching Stonewall Beyond the “First Brick”

The story of the Stonewall Uprising is—in the cultural imagination—a story of bricks. And in celebrating the 50th anniversary of what many consider the origin of Pride events and the catalyst for the LGBTQ rights movement, people will talk about bricks. We will hear stories of the first brick thrown toward police. We will hear stories about who threw it. We will hear stories about how this brick incited a riot and, thus, changed history.

Many credit pioneering trans activist Marsha P. Johnson for throwing that first brick. But it’s not the only first that defines the story as we’ve chosen to remember it. Many believe that Stormé DeLarverie—a black, lesbian activist—is the famous thrower of the first punch; the one who turned to onlookers and demanded, “Why don’t you guys do something?!” Others credit trans activist Sylvia Rivera for throwing the first bottle or Molotov cocktail. And yet, Johnson herself clarified that she didn’t arrive at the riots until “the place was already on fire.” Rivera said she didn’t throw the first cocktail. Their words have been drowned out by their legend.

The story of the Stonewall Uprising is—in the cultural imagination—a story of bricks. Bricks thrown. Bricks unbroken. Bricks unburnt. The bar’s brick wall and two archway doors still stand despite the system that tried to dismantle them.

But outside of the two states where LGBTQ history is mandatory curriculum, that increased recognition hasn’t translated to K–12 schools, where Stonewall is rarely mentioned. Its history, among young people, remains largely unknown.

And even a monument cannot keep Stonewall’s more complicated story alive. Not every student will see the neon sign now proudly hanging in the bar’s window. Few will ever walk down Christopher Street, and even if they do, they will not find the Greenwich Village that Rivera, Johnson and DeLarverie knew. The broken glass, stray coins and trash have long since been swept from the street.

But an educator can help lead students there. They need not throw bricks; they only must lay them.

Read the rest of this article here.