What were the Stonewall Riots? And how did it impact the LGBTQ Rights movement? Here are 6 facts about the Stonewall Riots you may not know.
At 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Violent handling of employees and patrons inside the bar sparked a riot by bar patrons and neighboring residents which lasted for six days. The Stonewall Riots swept across the world, serving as the catalyst of the LGBTQ rights movement. 50 years later, LGBTQ folks and allies alike, continue to celebrate its legacy.
1. Homosexuality was illegal
The decades prior to the Stonewall Riots were very hostile for the LGBTQ community. Gay bars and clubs served as a safe space for LGBTQ folks who were looking for refuge to express themselves without reprimand. Homosexual activity was illegal and criminal statutes were enforced targeting sodomy (or non-procreative sex) and cross-dressing.
2. Stonewall Inn was owned by the mafia
LGBTQ folks and the Mafia began their relationship going back as far as the Prohibition era. Local New York City authorities closed hundreds of LGBTQ hotspots in the 1930s and ‘40s. After Prohibition was repealed, state agencies continued to prohibit serving queer folks under the premise moral indecency. This forced the LBGTQ scene underground and because the Mafia had experience with running speakeasies, they used it to run gay bars by paying off local authorities. The Mob’s exploitation and monopoly of the LBGTQ community also led to the Stonewall Riots and activist groups continued to fight to keep organized crime out of gay spaces.
3. The police used harassment and excessive force
The harassment LGBTQ patrons faced was nothing new and they were routinely targeted by law enforcement. Two years before the events at the Stonewall Inn, The Black Cat — a gay bar in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California – was violently raided by the police. Patrons were so brutally beaten that one of the bartenders suffered a ruptured spleen and yet was charged with assaulting an officer. As law enforcement continued to violently raid gay clubs, the LGBTQ community grew weary, all of which culminated into the Stonewall Riots. Police officers entered the Stonewall Inn, violently assaulted patrons and arrested 13 people.
4. Transgender women of color were at the front lines
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera witnessed the police raid and were among the first people to fight back. They were known as drag queens and transvestites but self-identified as women, and would be known as women today.
But Johnson and Rivera’s fight for equal rights didn’t start with the Stonewall Riots, they had been advocating for LBGTQ rights since the early 60s. Transgender people and people of color are often excluded from the gay rights and women’s rights movements despite often being the most impacted by inequality. Stonewall Inn itself welcomed the most marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, including trans folks, drag queens, butch lesbians, sex workers and homeless youth.
Johnson had been celebrating her 25th birthday at Stonewall when the police stormed the premises, and both Johnson and Rivera ignited the initial moment of resistance when they threw a brick and a bottle at their police oppressors, causing a riot among other patrons who threw such a force that the police had to barricade themselves inside the bar, which the crowd attempted to set on fire.
5. The Aftermath – Gay Pride
On June 28, 1970, a year after the Stonewall Riots, a march took place on Christopher Street with similar marches in Los Angeles and Chicago — they were the first Gay Pride marches in U.S. history. In New York, LGBTQ folks and allies marched from Christopher Street to Central Park. Within two years, Gay Pride marches were frequenting more U.S. cities and in 1999 President Bill Clinton commemorated June as Gay & Lesbian Pride Month and in 2009, President Obama declared June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.
6. A Historical Landmark
In June 2015, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission made the Stonewall Inn a New York City landmark. In 2016, a few weeks after the Orlando, Florida Pulse nightclub shooting, President Obama officially designated the Stonewall National Monument, which encompasses the Stonewall Inn and Christopher Street Park.