The Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 is widely considered the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. The six-day riot, which began inside of the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of New York City, was the breaking point of years of tensions between police and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
LGBT people were subjected to civil laws that criminalised sodomy and, in New York City bars were allowed to refuse service to LGBT patrons. Arrests, harassment and instances of entrapment by police were frequent. Civil laws reinforced their actions. Establishments often cited Section 106, Subsection 6 of the New York State Penal Code to refuse service to queer patrons. The code barred premises from becoming “disorderly houses.” Many, including the courts, considered homosexual patrons to be disorderly and subjected the LGBT community to the full force of the law.
Here are some facts about the significance of Stonewall and the aftermath of the rebellion started by a courageous group of LGBT people.
1. The Stonewall riots started at 1:20am on Saturday, June 28,1969 at The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City. Another incident took place later that night.
“We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration….
– witness, Michael Fader
2. An unknown lesbian or drag queen is reportedly responsible for triggering the first riot after retaliating at the abusive behaviour from the police. Witnesses say the scene became explosive when the LGBT community reacted to the sight of the police abuse. The exact catalyst for the events in Greenwich Village that night vary between historians, journalists and witnesses.
“When did you ever see a fag fight back?… Now, times were a-changin’. Tuesday night was the last night for bullshit…. Predominantly, the theme was, “this shit has got to stop!”
—Anon Stonewall riots participant
3. The Stonewall Inn was owned and operated by the Mafia. There was a peephole in the door and if the bouncer didn’t recognize you or didn’t think you were gay, you wouldn’t get access.
4. Stonewall had no running water behind the bar (cups were washed in a bucket in a sink and reused) and overflowing toilets were common.
5. Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing, and would be arrested if found not wearing them. Employees and management of the bars were also typically arrested.
6. The period immediately before June 28, 1969 was marked by frequent raids of local bars—including a raid at the Stonewall Inn on the Tuesday before the riots—and the closing of the Checkerboard, the Tele-Star, and two other clubs in Greenwich Village. The night of the riot, female police officers took patrons dressed as women into the bathroom to perform intrusive checks and determine their sex.
7. Not long after the riots the Gay Rights movement began to take shape. Groups like the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance were formed and began to bring the gay community together through political action. The marches continued to bring awareness to causes that were specific to the homosexual community.
8. The first gay Pride march didn’t take place until June 28, 1970, a year after the Stonewall Rebellion. There were no floats—it was more of a politically-driven demonstration to commemorate the Stonewall Riots than the non-stop party and commercialised event it is today. The event originated outside of the Stonewall Inn, at 53 Christopher Street and continued up Fifth Avenue to end in Central Park. The march started with only a few hundred people at Stonewall and ended with several thousand by the time it concluded in Central Park. The marches brought gay and lesbian individuals together and it showed they were a sizable minority population, something that mainstream society did not believe.
By 1973, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March was already an expected event. In a New York Times article, Homosexuals March Down 7th Avenue; Bars Represented To Each His Own’, John Darnton writes, “Singing, chanting, clad in festive and arresting garb. thousands of homosexuals and supporters of homosexuals’ rights marched through mid-Manhattan yesterday, past smiling policemen, wide-eyed tourists and blasé New Yorkers who passed it off with a live-and-let-live shrug.” This shows the acceptance in a few short years by New Yorkers to the Gay Liberation Movement.
The site of the Stonewall riots, the Stonewall Inn, is still in business in its original location, despite several ups and downs since. The bar and surrounding area (named Stonewall Place) was officially recognized by New York City as a historic landmark in 1999, and as a National Historic Landmark in 2000. Young gay people visiting NYC in search of their roots will find various plaques at the bar, along the street, and in Christopher Park, but otherwise will discover that Stonewall now is just another rather … read more successful gay bar in an increasingly modern metropolis.
In 2009, forty years after the Stonewall Riots, New York City rebranded itself as a Gay Destination. The city initiated a marketing campaign in relation to the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. George A. Fertitta, a chief executive of NYC & company, the city’s tourism marketing agency “estimated that 10 percent of the city’s 47 million visitors last year were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and noted that out-of-town visitors spent $30 billion in the city last year”.