1969 • Stonewall Riots

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Stonewall Riots

1969

Internationally, the beginning of LGBTI+ emancipation and public militancy is commonly associated with a few turbulent days in New York City fifty years ago (the Stonewall Riots), and their commemoration one year later. In the early hours of the 28th of June, 1969, local police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a ‘gay bar’ in Greenwich Village. Such intimidating and harassing raids were habitual at the time. They were undertaken on the basis of local laws prohibiting the attempt to solicit homosexual relations and the wearing of gender-inappropriate clothes.

Although the Stonewall Inn was operated by the Mafia, which sometimes blackmailed customers, it was one of the few bars that allowed dancing between same-sex couples. It was frequented not only by white men, but by people of color, drag queens, trans people, sex workers and homeless gay youths. On this occasion, the bar’s patrons had had enough of police harassment and fought back. Together with neighborhood residents they sparked a riot. When the police tried to barricade themselves in the bar, it was set on fire by the protesters. Marsha P. Johnson is often given credit for throwing the first brick yet accounts suggest that it was Stormé DeLarverie, a black biracial butch lesbian and drag king. These protesters, made up of predominantly black and brown people, were angry due to their continuous oppression by society and the police.

The violent clashes outside the bar on Christopher Street and in the surrounding area, sometimes involving thousands of people, lasted for six days. These riots were commemorated in New York City one year later in the form of a pride march, which became the source of inspiration for similar annual marches around the world, including the Belgian Pride.

Although the rebellion owes a lot to trans people and sex workers of color, their leading figure Sylvia Rivera was denied the stage at the first Pride, so that their historical role was diminished by the white gay and lesbian community at the time. In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the area around the Stonewall Inn a national monument in honor of its contribution to LGBTI+ and human rights.

Stonewall Riots Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera March in CSLD Parade (1971) ⓒ The LGBT Community Center National History Archive
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera March in CSLD Parade (1971) ⓒ The LGBT Community Center National History Archive

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