The Stonewall Riots (also known as the Stonewall Uprising or Christopher Street Uprising) which began in the early hours of June 28th, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, a local gay club in Greenwich Village, New York City; was the catalyst that ignited the fire for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the World. Before the events of stonewall, a number of incidents across the world were occurring that sparked growing unrest among the queer people both open and closeted. But the community was yet to come together.
Around 56 years prior to the events of Stonewall, in 1913 Alfred Redl, head of Austrian Intelligence committed suicide after being identified as a homosexual and a Russian double agent and his widely publicized arrest and subsequent death birthed the notion that homosexuals were a security risk. Merely 6 years after this incident, Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Institute for Sexology in Berlin with a primary focus on the civil rights of women and gay people. Unfortunately, with the rise of Adolf Hitler, on January 30th of 1933, the gay press in Germany was banned and the Institute for Sexology was raided with the burning of over 12000 books, periodicals, artworks etc. Just as Jews were made to wear the Star of David on their prison uniforms, gay people were also rounded up and were required to wear a pink triangle, ready to be sent to the concentration camps in German occupied countries. Ironically it is during the second World War, that the United states saw a rise in gay bars, clubs and community groups. It became a time of “great awakening” for the queer people there with the increase in homosocial environments created by the military and a number of women working outside home providing greater opportunity for people to explore their sexuality. In 1948, Alfred Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male revealing that the number of queer people were far larger than what was known. 3 years later, The Mattachine Society often considered as the beginning of the contemporary organized gay rights movement in the U.S, was founded to help homosexuals realize and share their collective histories and experiences. In 1961, Illinois became the first state in the U.S to decriminalize homosexual acts.
The crime syndicate aka mafia groups in New York City saw profit in catering to the outcast gay clientele & by mid 1960s, the Genovese Crime family controlled most Greenwich gay bars. In 1966, they bought the Stonewall Inn, cheaply renovated it and reopened it as a gay bar. The Genovese family bribed New York’s Sixth Police Precinct to turn a blind eye to the activities occurring within the club. The club was large and cheap to enter and welcomed drag queens, runaways and homeless gay youths as well who were otherwise shunned at other gay bars. Raids were still common, but usually corrupt cops would tip off Mafia run bars before they occurred. In the early morning of June 28th, 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn and there was no tip off this time. Police came in with a warrant, roughed up patrons and arrested 13 people including employees and people who violated the state’s gender appropriate clothing statute. Female officers would take suspected cross dressers to the bathroom to check their sex. As the events unfolded and people were aggressively manhandled, fed up with constant police harassment and social discrimination angry patrons stayed back rather than disperse. Within minutes, a full blown riot began, the police, a few prisoners and a writer barricaded themselves within the bar. The mob attempted to set fire to the bar. Though; the fire dept. and the riot squad successfully doused the fire and dispersed the crowd, the protests continued for five more days.
Five months after the riots, activists looked to start a LGBTQ+ movement. They then made a proposal at the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations in Philadelphia that a march would be held in NYC to commemorate the one year anniversary of the raid. When thinking of a slogan for the event L. Craig Schoonmaker suggested ‘Pride’ marking the beginning of the iconic slogan. America’s first gay pride parade officially known as Christopher Street Liberation Day March was held on the one year anniversary of the riots on June 28th, 1970, the parade’s official chant was, “Say it Loud, Gay is Proud”. In 2016, then president Barack Obama designated the site of the riots- stonewall inn and the surrounding areas, a national monument.
The Stonewall riots paved the way for the community to come together and pushed the need for activism of Gay Rights. After the riots in 1973, The American Psychiatric Association removed ‘Homosexuality’ from its list of mental disorders and added ‘gender identity disorder/gender dysphoria’ in its place, though unfortunately it resulted in targeting transgender and gender non conforming people as mentally ill. And not everything was rosy and a lot of hardships were on the way. In 1978, an openly gay city council member Harvey Milk and San Francisco’s Mayor George Moscone were murdered and in the following year the convicted murderer Dan White received a verdict of voluntary manslaughter with a sentence of 7-8 years which resulted in countrywide protests as the queer community saw this as yet another instant of blatant discrimination. In a rare ray of hope, Wisconsin became the first state in the U.S to pass the state wide gay rights legislation in 1981. 6 years later, on October 11, 1987 the largest civil rights demonstration in U.S history took place in the form of a National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights which drew over 500,000 people and the date came to be known as the National Coming Out Day.
In the following years, a number of incidents both for and against the welfare of the community marked history. The Episcopal Diocese of Newark, New Jersey became the first church in the states to condone and bless the relationships between gay and lesbian couples. Bill Clinton became the first US president to recognize gay rights as a matter of national importance and also appointed queer people for government positions though on the flip side Bill Clinton also ended up signing the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denied same sex couples the right to marriage recognized by the federal government. Canada finally allowed same sex couples the right to marriage in 2003 and in the same year Rev. Gene Robinson became the first openly gay man to be anointed as a Bishop. In the following year, Massachusetts in the U.S also legalized same sex marriage. By 2008, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire all legalized same sex marriage. President Obama finally declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2011 and in the same year, LGBT men and women were allowed to openly serve the US Armed Services.
Though the rage and fervor of the Stonewall riots helped catapult the LGBTQ+ movement to new heights, even while we celebrate Pride month, never forget Pride is a Protest.