Since the start of June marks the beginning of Pride month, I’ve seen a lot of posts nodding to the Stonewall Riots of 1969. However, I have realised I don’t know much these uprisings other than they set off the Gay Rights Movement. I’ve done bit of research to educate myself and I want to share it.
In 1969, homosexual acts were still illegal and police raids of gay bars/ clubs were frequent. The riots were in response to a string of police arrests at a gay bar called The Stonewall Inn situated in Greenwich Village, New York.
Between the 24th-28th June Stonewall employees were arrested for selling alcohol without a license. Drag queens and cross-dressers at the bar were also taken into custody — ‘masquerading’ as the opposite sex was deemed an offence. If police believed somebody was cross-dressing, they’d force them to strip to reveal their ‘real’ gender.
In the early hours of 28th June, the LGBTQ community had enough. Police loaded those they arrested during a raid into their vans. A crowd gathered around Stonewall, yelling and throwing things at the police. Two transgender women of colour, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Riviera, are reported to have thrown the first brick at the police.
The police leave and the crowd barricade themselves inside Stonewall. More police arrive, the protesters ran away and circled officers. Soon things died down, marking the first night of Stonewall protests.
The next night people gather back at Stonewall, they chanted “gay power”. Police used tear gas. Each night after more and more gathered at the inn to spread the message of gay rights. People kept returning every night to make noise. This snowballed into the foundations of what we know today as the Gay Rights Movement. LGBTQ people of America really felt like they were part of a community.
The first Pride parade took place on 28th June, 1970, one year after the original riot. Gay activists in New York organised the march with several hundred people joining at first. They paraded through 15 blocks, gathering more and more supporters. By the end, there were thousands marching.
Fuelled by New York’s example, cities across America held their own Gay Pride events. Soon other countries began to do the same — Britain had its first Pride rally 1st July 1972.
The events that took place the first night at The Stonewall Inn fuelled a global movement. Pride parades are still held today, although with social distancing maybe Stonewall will be commorated differently this year.
The refusal of backing down at Stonewall was a game changer. This is something we are seeing in America and beyond since the death of George Floyd. Make enough noise, you will be heard and things will begin to change for the better.