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Why did the Pride Marches start? The Stonewall Riots
The year was 1969 and the place was the Stonewall Inn. The bar was located in Greenwich Village, New York City and it was the haven for the LGBT community.
At the time all homosexual acts were illegal in every state except Illinois. Any bar could be shut down if they had gay employees or if they had gay patrons. Most of the gay bars and clubs in New York were ran by the mafia at this time. They threatened the gay club owners with the threat of ‘outing’ them and they paid corrupt police officers to look the other way.
The raids by the police were a common occurrence but on this night, the LGBT community decided that they were going to fight back. This was the start of the revolution.
June 24, 1969: Police arrest Stonewall employees, confiscate alcohol.
The Tuesday night before the riots started the police had raided Stonewall. They had arrested some employees and confiscated the illegal liquor. They were targeted as the bar was running without a proper liquor licence. After they’d carried out the Tuesday’s riot, they planned another one for the Friday and aimed to close the bar down all together.
June 27-28, 1969: Stonewall crowd erupts after police arrest and rough up patrons.
Just after midnight on the Friday, eight undercover police officers (six men and 2 women) entered the bar. Not only did they arrest the bar’s employee’s they included the cross-dressing patrons and all of the drag queens. At the time “masquerading” as the opposite sex was a crime.
Additional police officers arrived, along with three patrol cars. The patrons who managed to get out of the bar had joined the growing crowds outside of the Stonewall Inn. A police van arrived and they started loading them with the vast number of people they had arrested.
Early hours of June 28, 1969: Transgender women resist arrest. Bottles are thrown at police.
The accounts differ over what the exact catalyst was for the riots starting but according to witnesses the crowd erupted when the police roughed up a woman dressed up in masculine clothing (some believe this woman was lesbian activist Stormé DeLarverie) as she complained her handcuffs were too tight. The crowd starting yelling “Pigs” and “Copper” whilst throwing pennies at the police, along with bottles and slashing the tires of their vehicles.
Close to 4 a.m. June 28, 1969: Police retreat and barricade themselves inside Stonewall.
The police vans took the arrested staff, patrons and drag queens that have arrested to the local police precinct but the crowd outside managed to force the original police raiding team back until they retreated to the safety of the Stonewall Inn itself and barricaded themselves inside. (Some may see the irony that the safe haven was inside the very place they were trying to close down, which was the home and safe haven of those they were arresting.
The rioters outside used parking meters, beer bottles, anything they could find and made makeshift firebombs through the doors to the police offers inside.
Sirens were the sound of additional police. The Tactical Patrol Force, the city’s riot police arrived. As the officers marched in their formation down Christopher Street the protesters ran away and circled the blocks of the village, allowing them to come back up behind the police officers.
Amazingly no one was critically injured or died in these riots when they eventually settled down at some point around 4am.
June 28-29: Stonewall reopens, supporters gather. Police beat and tear gas crowd.
Despite the events of the night before the Stonewall Inn opened before dark the very next night. It had been torn apart by the police, jukeboxes were broken, and they weren’t serving alcohol. However, more and more supporters showed up and shouted slogans like “gay power” and “we shall overcome”.
An even larger amount of riot police were called out again and beat and tear gassed members of the crowd. This again went on until the early hours of the morning until the crowd dispersed.
June 29-July 1, 1969: Stonewall becomes gathering point for LGBT activists.
This then transpired into gay activists using the Stonewall Inn to spread information and build the community that would eventually fuel the gay rights movement. The police returned but the mood was less confrontational and there were a few isolated fights instead of the large scale riots of the previous weekend.
July 2, 1969: Gay activists protest newspaper coverage.
The newspaper coverage by the Village Voice’s described the riots as “The forces of faggotry” this led to protesters gathering outside the newspaper’s offices and calling for burning the building down. Again, the police pushed back, rioting began again but this time it was all finished by midnight.
The New York Daily News also used homophobic slurs with the coverage. Their title read “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.” The New York Times however went with “Police Again Rout ‘Village’ Youths.” And printed a very small article.
The lasting impact of the Stonewall Riots.
The riots of the Stonewall Inn and the spirit of the rebellion spread to the LGBT people in New York and further afield and for the first time their had been a larger community. Although Stonewall didn’t start the gay rights movement it did mark a huge turning point.
The Mattachine Society founded in the 1950’s was thought to be one of earliest gay rights organisations in America. Leading the way to more radical groups like the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA).
June 28, 1970: First Gay Pride parade sets off from Stonewall.
On the first anniversary of the police raid of the Stonewall Inn, gay activists organised the Christopher Street Liberation March to end the city’s first Gay Pride Week. The march began with hundreds of people marching along 6th avenue to Central Park. However, supporters from the crowd joined them and it ended up stretching 15 city blocks and encompassed thousands of people.
This then inspired other cities to organise their own gay pride celebrations including LA, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston. This then reached further to begin gay rights movements in Britain, France, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. This tradition has been carried on and will continue to be celebrated!
Thank you to History.Com for your excellent write up and education on the event.