During the summer night of ’69, the world witnessed the most monumental happenings of the LGBTQ community. Now 5 decades, we re-tell the known facts of Stonewall.
The history behind this event exists of course, but we’re sure a person out of the community has written it down. The reason there are few to almost no stories about the lives of the LGBTQ people. This isn’t surprising as people from the community constantly feel like they don’t exist. Stories that were possibly written were shoved underground. In worst case situations, perhaps left untold.
It’s only now, years after Stonewall, that people are reclaiming the actual incidents. But how far can we go, with an event that’s 50 years old, most of the witnesses have been long gone.
Here are some of the things we know for sure did happen during the birth of the greatest gay movement:
The Stonewall Inn was then in operation by a crime organization:
In the 60s, homosexuality was an act that was under fire from every possible direction. It was thought to be amoral, with multiple individuals getting arrested. Furthermore, their names and home addresses were published in their local newspapers. The act of homosexual sex was still illegal in the majority of America’s states.
With such a strict law, society also took it upon themselves to banish the community in any way they could. As a result, being part of the LGBTQ community led to a lot of harassment. It reaches a point where same-sex displays affection were under prohibition.
More so, you cannot roam outside without a minimum of 3 gender appropriate articles of clothing. Gay-friendly bars were also problematic, officials would often withhold liquor licenses or raids were executed by the police.
It was because of the collective hatred towards the community that the members of a mafia began purchasing and operating gay-friendly clubs. The mob knew that catering to the LGBTQ while bribing city officials would become profitable.
The Genovese crime family was owning the Stonewall Inn which became known for welcoming drag queens and giving homeless teenagers and young adults a place to gather. They get a tip each time there is a raid happening at the place, this would give them enough time to hide any liquor. But the 28th June riot didn’t receive a tip.
Police had to lock themselves in the bar due to riots:
Police were allegedly targeting Stonewall for its lack of liquor license and the owner’s possible blackmail attempts on gay attendees. They went on to confiscate alcohol and do checks ids and clothing attire. Those who could not provide proof of their sex and age were immediately under cuffs.
Recallers claim that the night was still under control until the police left with a “typical New York butch” who was screaming, yelling, and constantly breaking free. She was hit on the head with a baton for supposedly complaining about her handcuffs being too tight. It was at this moment that history was going to be formed.
She looked straight at the bystanders, thriving with electricity in their veins after years and years of being treated like scum and voiced a single sentence, “Why don’t you guys do something?”
The sentence seemed to have a rippling effect with people immediately looking for pennies, bottles, garbage and garbage cans. Even going ahead and removing a parking meter from the ground to use as a ram.
The police, who now became increasingly fearful, chose to lock themselves inside the Stonewall Inn. The mob outside grew much more, becoming hundreds of people in barely minutes.
The protestors started throwing bricks from nearby construction, breaking windows and chanting together the lyrics of We Shall Overcome. The protestors threw garbage on fire into the building, trying to break the doors open and free the people inside. They were not going to sit quietly. No, not anymore.
After a struggle, the crowd was under control, at least for one night. The police left the scene, with 13 people arrested and 4 wounded police officers.
The Second Night:
Stonewall Inn reopened and another mob was ready to meet the police. Both sides were more aggressive, with residents and customers forming a mob of protestors while the police were using brute force to gain control of the situation.
“There was more anger and more fight the second night,” eyewitness and participant Danny Garvin told PBS’s American Experience. “There was no going back now, there was no going back… we had discovered a power that we weren’t even aware that we had.”
Many of the same people returned from the previous evening—hustlers, street youths, and “queens”—but they were joined by “police provocateurs”, curious bystanders, and even tourists. Thousands of people had gathered in front of the Stonewall, which had opened again, choking Christopher Street until the crowd spilt into adjoining blocks. The throng surrounded buses and cars, harassing the occupants unless they either admitted they were gay or indicated their support for the demonstrators.
A year later and pride was everywhere, with over five gay prints were distributed to around 25,000 people in New York City.
Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970, marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street. There were simultaneous Gay Pride marches in Los Angeles and Chicago, these were the first Gay Pride marches in U.S. history.
Some of the members of a New York Police Department who were against the protestors during the Stonewall Riots one year before were now protecting those same protestors during the walk. Other marches took place in other cities, marking the country’s first widespread demonstration for gay rights.
Also read: Pride Events In 2019 – When And Where
The Stonewall Inn is an important and historic venue for the entirety of the LGBTQ community. On June 24th, 2016, President Barack Obama made the Stonewall Inn and all the surrounding area a National Historic Landmark. It is under the care of the National Park Service. One of the more known participants of the event – Marsha P. Jackson, started the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in the following year, helping homeless LGBTQ youth.
As one would question, what happened to Stonewall Inn? It became a juice-bar, a bagel shop and then a Chinese restaurant. Now we’re proud to know that the Stonewall Inn is back to being its original state – a bar, that is often for just about everyone.