The Stonewall Riots and the Birth of the LBGTQ Civil Rights Movement

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which single handedly launched the LBGTQ civil rights movement after years of discrimination and de-marginalization by society.  The climate was perfect for the birth of this movement as it arrived along with the civil rights movement, the antiwar movement protesting Vietnam and the counterculture movement of the 60’s. Change was literally in the air and tensions were high.  The LBGTQ community has always been known for its determination and perseverance in the face of adversity and Stonewall was no exception.  The Stonewall Inn was a tavern located in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan, New York which was owned by the Mafia as many gay bars at that time were owned and operated by heterosexual people.  Stonewall was regarded to be a dive in comparison to the other gay bars located in the village as it catered the most marginalized members of the community such as drag queens, transgender people, effeminate men, butch lesbians, male sex workers and homeless gay youth. Because the local police considered these internal groups of the gay community to be easy prey for raids and harassment, no one could ever anticipate the events of those two nights, June 28 and 29.

At 1 am on the morning of June 28th, police arrived to conduct a raid on Stonewall but came face to face with the patrons of the bar who had grown tired of the constant harassment and decided that they would no longer stand to be treated like second class citizens.  They threw bottles and anything they could get their hands on in the direction of the cops as the cops used their batons and tried to force the patrons into paddy wagons to bring them down to the police station for processing. Approximately 500 people gathered outside the inn to protest the arrests and support the besieged patrons.  The following night on June 29th, the police returned for a second night of arrests and were greeted by a thousand plus protestors who gathered outside the tavern, rocks, bottles and bricks were thrown at the cops as the crowd overturned several police wagons and lit garbage on fire.  After being harassed and tortured for so many years, these patrons had nothing to lose as the anger had reached its boiling point.  The cops retreated when a tactical unit arrived which could do nothing to calm the crowd.  Later that morning, according to witnesses, the streets turned still but one could still feel the electricity in the air.

Within a few months, two gay activist groups were born from the aftermath of these riots with the intention of establishing safe places where LGBTQ people could be open without fear of arrest and persecution and one year later, the first gay liberation pride was held on the anniversary of the riots in New York along with three parades held in San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. At this time, several newspapers were established to bring the community together and to begin the process of establishing rights for gay individuals.The opening lines of the constitution for one of the activist groups that were born after the riots, the Gay Activists Alliance, started with these words, We as liberated homosexual activists demand the freedoms for expression of our dignity and our value as human beings. We must never forget the resilience and efforts of those who stood up to injustice fifty years ago, let their memory never allow us to be stripped of respect, love and equality. Let us never forget what came before.  Let us learn from history for we are bound to repeat it if we choose to ignore it.

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