June marks the beginning of summer and finally some relief from the stress of the school year. However, June also signifies Pride Month, selected to commemorate the LGBT rights movement and, more specifically, the Stonewall riots.
In the 1960s, LGBT Americans faced oppression so severe that authorities shut down establishments that served alcohol to LGBT individuals because of their “disorderly” gathering in gay bars. After activists’ efforts, the strict alcohol regulations dissipated but same-sex couples could not kiss, hold hands or dance together in public without facing prosecution. This led to police harassment and ambushes of gay bars that served as refuge for members of the LGBT community to act openly.
Stonewall Inn quickly rose in popularity in Greenwich Village, New York because of its large size, cheap entrance fee and inclusivity. The Stonewall Inn welcomed drag queens, unlike most other gay bars and clubs at the time, and became one of the few gay bars that allowed dancing. The bar remained as a hub for LGBT people of all ages to socialize and embrace their sexuality without scrutiny. Unfortunately, the culture and laws of the time persisted and police raids of LGBT spaces only increased.
Police raided Stonewall Inn on the morning of June 28, 1969. Officers roughed up patrons, arrested 13 people and assessed people of violating the state’s “gender-appropriate clothing statute,” meaning suspected cross-dressing patrons had to prove their biological gender. Patrons agitated with the police harassment and discrimination stayed around the bar instead of returning home. Their anger grew exponentially as the police aggressively handled people in the bar. At one point in the raid, a police officer hit a lesbian patron over the head as he forced her into his vehicle. During this assault, the woman called onlookers to take action. Bystanders began to throw pennies, bottles and other objects at the police. Drag king Stormé DeLarverie is credited with throwing the first object, thus inciting the historic Stonewall riots.
A full-blown riot developed shortly after and forced the police to barricade themselves in the bar for protection. People continued to throw things and attempted to set the building on fire after breaching the barricade. The fire department and riot squad eventually dispersed the crowd and rescued those trapped inside Stonewall, but the protests did not cease. Protests involving nearly thousands of people broke out repeatedly over the course of five days. Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman, played a key role in the uprising at Stonewall Inn and worked with Sylvia Rivera to organize gay rights protests, open a shelter for homeless LGBT youth and found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, otherwise known as STAR, which also provided housing and support to LGBT youth. Now, 50 years later, the city of New York announced plans to build a statue in honor of Johnson and Rivera to celebrate Pride Month and the fifthtieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
The events that took place at Stonewall led to numerous gay rights organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and, more modernly, the Trevor Project.
The year 2019 marks 50 years since the patrons of Stonewall Inn fought for their rights in the face of police brutality and societal disdain. The modern gay rights movement continues to progress as the media provides LGBT representation and modern organizations promote acceptance among peers such as the Gay-Straight Alliance.
To celebrate 50 years since the Stonewall riots, the state of New York held a celebration known as “WorldPride NYC” which consisted of related events throughout the world. The worldwide LGBTQ pride event took place in the United States for the first time to honor the events of Greenwich Village in 1969. SAGE, an organization that advocates and services LGBT elders, honored Stonewall’s anniversary with a video series that deals with firsthand accounts of individuals involved in the uprising and the LGBT movement. The Stonewall Forever organization also offers an interactive online monument that describes the context before, during and after the riots. Stonewall Forever also offers a free to watch documentary that further delves into the LGBT rights movement.
Although the LGBTQ+ community still faces adversity, the Stonewall riots paved the way for the rise of gay rights movements and worked toward a more equal future.