On June 28, 1969, in New York’s Greenwich Village, the police did something unremarkable. They raided a gay bar.
But that night, the patrons did something that would change history.
They fought back.
In the 1950s and 1960s, very few establishments welcomed openly gay people, and those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay themselves. The Stonewall Inn, at the time, was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons, but it was known for being popular with the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.
“Well first of all, it was all about location. I mean, it was like right on Christopher Street, and you could do slow dancing there. It was the only place where you could do slow dancing, and it was like a real bar. And our peers were all in there.” - Martin Boyce
It’s the early hours of June 28, 1969 when a routine police raid on The Stonewall Inn, a popular underground gay bar in Greenwich Village, sparks a full-scale riot. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn. Tensions between police and LGBTQ community members of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Violent protests and street demonstrations continued for the next several days in what became known as The Stonewall Riots, thrusting a group of unlikely revolutionaries onto the frontlines of history and igniting one of the most influential social and political movements of the 20th Century.
Prior to the riots, in 1965 there had been a large number of small, non-violent protests in local bars and nightclubs around the city to protest a law to prevent “any more than three homosexuals” to be allowed into a bar, or nightclub, at any time. Not too much later, queer activists organized various student organizations at Columbia University and at New York University. In response to the activism, the police proceeded to raid and close bars, and arrest queer activists. Homosexuals and activists alike were brutally beaten and harassed by police, while spending the night in jail.
A typical raid consisted of plain clothed detectives and a uniformed officer entering the bar and announcing their presence. The officers asked for identification papers from customers and they were usually escorted outside, arresting some and pushing others off of the sidewalk.
On June 28th, 1969, however, the community had enough. “As the police raided the bar, a crowd of four hundred patrons gathered on the street outside and watched the officers arrest the bartender, the doorman, and a few drag queens”. This crowd of four hundred eventually grew to over two thousand people, all fed up of being treated like second class citizens. Chants of “Gay power!” rung out from the crowd and it soon turned violent. Beer bottles and trash cans were thrown and police reinforcements soon had to come to try to beat off the crowd. Just when it looked as if things were going to be over, the crowd returned, bigger and stronger. The LGBTQ community rioted for hours until a control squad showed up at the scene and dispersed the crowd. “On the first night alone, 13 people were arrested and four police officers were injured. At least two rioters were said to be severely beaten by the police and many more sustained injuries”. One protester needed stitches to repair a knee broken by a night stick; another lost two fingers in a car door. Witnesses recollect that some of the most "feminine boys" were beaten badly. Still, the protest went on; over a thousand protesters showed up the following Wednesday.
During the siege of the Stonewall, Craig Rodwell called The New York Times, The New York Post, and The New York Daily News to inform them what was...
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