The Stonewall Riot started in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when a group of customers took exception to the raid of the Stonewall Inn by NYC police that night. The raids were a regular course of business for the police and they had raided Stonewall just a few days prior.
NY had laws that prohibited homosexuality in public. Using this as justification for their actions, police would raid private businesses and clubs and shut them down.
On that fateful night, the gay community would fight back and the birth of the Gay Pride movement got its start.
According to eyewitness accounts, the riot started after bystanders threw something, a rock or bottle or high heel shoe, at police after police started to rough up the people pulled out of Stonewall Inn. Police had to take refuge inside the Stonewall Inn. The protest spread to surrounding streets and eventually the NYC Tactical Patrol Force had to come in to restore order.
For the next five days, the gay community of NYC fought back. But, was the riot really the breaking point of the gay community after years of persecution? Or was it the result of a group of troubled youth with nothing to lose fighting for the only place they could go where they felt safe?
Did you know…
In NYC in the 1960s, police could arrest any individual wearing less than three gender-appropriate articles of clothing.
One thing is certain, after the Stonewall Riots, the gay community would not tolerate the abuse any longer. They started angry demonstrations and marched down the streets. Over the next several weeks, gay activist organizations were starting in every major city.
On the one year anniversary of the riot, on June 28, 1970, the first ever Gay Pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
All of this was the kernel that snowballed into the modern gay rights movement.
Gay Life Before the Stonewall Riot
In the 1950s, several anti-gay laws, actions and orders by local, state and federal governments made being gay something that you had to hide in order to survive. Gay men were being kicked out of the military.
On April 27, 1953, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which banned any gay person from working for the federal government. It also allowed any private company that contracted with the government to fire their gay employees.
This moment in history is known as the Lavender Scare, named after the Red Scare of McCarthy’s attack on communism. Thousands of gay people lost their jobs.
Two consenting adults of the same sex having sexual relations together, even in their own home, was grounds for imprisonment.
In NY, it was the law that you must wear a minimum of three pieces of clothing that were appropriate for your physical gender.
Did you know…
In NYC, the gay bars and clubs were owned and operated by the mafia.
In 1950, a Senate committee wrote, “Those who engage in overt acts of perversion [being gay] lack the emotional stability of normal persons.” Newspapers and magazines used the word pervert synonymously with homosexual. Many gay people hated themselves and suicide was a prevalent alternative to life as a homosexual.
Being gay was classified as having a mental disorder. State mental hospitals were being compared to Nazi concentration camps for their methods of imprisoning and “treating” homosexuals with electroshock therapy to “cure” them of being gay. Other “treatments” included castration, lobotomies, and drug-induced brainwashing.
Gay art or literature was attacked as being obscene and often censored. The famous poet Allen Ginsberg fought one such case all the way to the Supreme Court. The high court upheld the first amendment claiming that Ginsberg’s poem Wolf was not obscene and protected speech.
Of course, this barely scratches the surface of what gay life was like. So many atrocities have occurred that went unnoticed, undocumented, unpunished. It’s not hard to see how the environment was ripe for riot and revolution. The gay community was pushed to snap on that fateful night in 1969, and our world will never be the same!
So, as we celebrate Stonewall this week in Wilton Manors, we must remember how we got here and that we have a lot further to go.
Never stop fighting!