In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, police led a raid at the Stonewall Inn, a bar located in Greenwich Village on Manhattan’s west side. It wasn’t uncommon for police to lead raids there and in other LGBT-friendly areas, arresting and harassing the customers. But this time, unsuspectingly, patrons fought back with “uncharacteristic fury and outrage.” Crowds of bystanders outside the bar observed the struggles with increasing agitation, and eventually joined in as well, “throwing coins, stones, and bottles at the officers.” When the police were forced to retreat into the bar, patrons even tried to set it on fire. This uprising set into motion five more consecutive nights of protests and further activism, and from their onset, the riots had a significant impact. “For those of us in [the] public morals [division], things were completely changed … Suddenly they were not submissive anymore,” said the deputy police inspector in charge.
Within a short time, the first LGBT pride parade took place, and within a few years, advocacy groups had formed in almost every major city in the United States. But the nature of LGBT-friendly spaces has since changed. “Stonewall was not the first time that gay people had fought back against police harassment,” nor was it “the first time that bar raids sparked protests. Bars played this political role because bars were where gay people gathered,” notes June Thomas of Slate.com, and suggests that this is becoming less relevant as LGBT people are accepted in a greater variety of places today.
The anniversary of the Stonewall Riots takes place this year during what is clearly becoming another pivotal point in LGBT history. Stonewall recently received a great deal of additional coverage for being a prime place of celebration this weekend after the New York state legislature legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples—the sixth and by far the most populous state to do so thus far. Our very own Ross Murray was at the Stonewall on Friday, and wrote this first-person account of the evening.
GLAAD encourages readers to learn more about the Stonewall Riots and other important events in LGBT history. In particular, Columbia University runs an informative website about the Riots and their aftermath, including clips from media outlets at the time. GLAAD also previously produced a resource kit for journalists and the community during Stonewall’s 40th anniversary. It is essential to continue raising awareness about these and other historical milestones, as they set the foundation for LGBT people working towards equality today.