LGBTQIA+ History: Stonewall Riots

Freddie Parker on 9 July 2022
The Stonewall Inn as it was a few years ago

Pride is a time to celebrate, yes, but also a time to remember why we need it in the first place.

While you’re bound to have some fun joining the LGBTQ+ community in their celebrations, it’s worth remembering how we got here. You may have heard some people say that the first Pride was a riot against police, and that’s not an unfounded statement. Here’s our breakdown of the Stonewall Riots:

What lead to the Stonewall Riots?

The 60s, as well as previous decades, were tough times for the LGBTQ+ community. Sexual activity between same-sex individuals was illegal in most states, including New York. There were also laws restricting people to wearing ‘gender-appropriate’ clothing. 

LGBTQ+ individuals sought refuge in bars and clubs, but many of them were raided and shut down, because the gathering of homosexuals was seen as ‘disorderly’. After hard work from activists, these regulations were overturned in 1966, but engaging in ‘homosexual acts’ such as kissing or holding hands were still illegal. This meant that police harassment and raids of gay bars and clubs continued.

The mafia took advantage of those seeking refuge by operating bars without licences and profiting from shunned gay patrons. Stonewall Inn became one such venue, owned by the Genovese crime family, and was at one point the only venue that allowed dancing. It became a popular gay destination in Greenwich Village as it was large and had a cheaper entry cost than most.

What actually happened at the Stonewall Riots?

Normally, corrupt police officers would tip off the mafia bar owners before raids. But on the morning of June 28th 1969, a raid happened unannounced. Many of the patrons were assaulted by police officers and 13 people were arrested, mostly those seen to be violating the regulations on ‘gender-appropriate clothing.

Photo taken by Joseph Ambrosini on the first night of the Stonewall Riots

After decades of such abuse, patrons and members of the LGBTQ+ community were tired. One lesbian activist, believed to be Stormé DeLarverie, complained about the rough treatment by police, and others who hadn’t dispersed after the raid began to throw pennies and stones at the police. 

It wasn’t long before a full riot broke out. Hundreds of people participated in the initial riot, with some barricading themselves in Stonewall Inn. The Inn was set alight, but the fire was doused and people rescued. Over the next few days, the riots continued, sometimes involving thousands of people.

What is the impact of the riots today?

On the anniversary of the riots in 1970, the Christopher Street Liberation Day was organised and is viewed by many to be the USA’s first pride parade. Attendees marched from Stonewall Inn to Central Park, chanting ‘say it loud, gay is proud’. Pride parades are now a tradition in many cities around the world.

Famous Stonewallers (those who attended the riots), Marsha ‘Pay it no mind’ Johnson and Sylvia Riveira set up the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). This organisation set out to help homeless transgender youth and sex workers.

Many gay rights organisations sprang up in the years that followed, such as the Gay Liberation Front, GLAAD, and PFLAG, many of which are still active today.

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Freddie Parker
Freddie Parker on 9 July 2022