Today is the 50th Anniversary of The Stonewall Riots
The Stonewall Inn has been a bar in Greenwich Village in NYC for decades. In the 60’s, it was sold to the Genovese Crime Family, and they changed it over from a restaurant/nightclub to a gay bar. It was one of those places with a peephole in the front door like in prohibition. Many of the young people were underage with no where to go because they were rejected or homeless due to being gay. And drinking alcohol was illegal too. Stonewall had no liquor license because it was illegal for a bar that served gays to be issued a license.
In 1969 being gay was illegal in all 49 states. Same sex couples could not
dance together. The performances were drag queens (men who dressed
as women in an exaggerated fashion for entertainment). The police got a payoff to look the other way. The bar was routinely raided anyway. The patrons were harassed, threatened to be outed (tell others about your homosexuality) to work or family and often arrested. Dancing, flirting, or being in the bar could turn into an arrest for “solicitation of homosexual relations”. If a cop thought a patron was not conforming to gender roles like the drag queens or transgender people an arrest charge of “non-gender appropriate clothing” could be filed.
On June 22, 1969 Judy Garland died in London. Judy had long been an icon to the gay community. Many drag performers still impersonate her. Her body was flown back to NYC on June 26, the funeral home had to stay open to accommodate all of the fans that showed up to pay respects. Her funeral was on TV the next day. That night the gay community gathered at The Stonewall to mourn the death of Judy. At around 1 AM-ish the doors burst open and the police started raiding the club once again. This time the club hadn’t been warned in advance so no one knew it was coming. The police were taking people in the back and basically strip searching them to make sure they were wearing “gender appropriate clothing” , beating people will billy clubs etc. This time was different though. This time the patrons fought back. Editor’s Note: A “friend of Dorothy” used to be code for “is that person gay?” In the 90’s A “friend of Ellen” was code for lesbians. SO it would go like this: “Is such and such a friend of Ellen’s?”
As legend has it, it was a lesbian who had been beaten for complaining her handcuffs were too tight that started it all. While being dragged, bleeding to a cop car she looked back at the gathering crowd and yelled “Why don’t you guys do something?”. The rallying cry that started it all.
They had enough of the raids. Enough of the threats. Enough of the powerlessness. Enough of the invisibility. So they began to riot. They were violent with the police. The
police were violent with the patrons. The riot ended up on the street. They
even set the bar on fire. There were arrests. Others had joined in support in
the hundreds. Word was spread to meet the next night for a protest. As a
result an organization called the Gay Liberation Front was formed.
This is what made Stonewall a watershed moment. The formation of the
Gay Liberation Front was the forerunner of the modern gay rights
movement. One year after the riots people organized a march from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park. This was the beginning of the LBGT Pride parades that are celebrated all around the world.
-Cyn Campbell contributed to this story-