The Stonewall Riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations that took place against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn during the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. It continued for 2 days. It is widely considered to be the single most important event leading to Gay Liberation. The following year the first PRIDE March took place on July 28, 1970. Eighteen years later, on July 1, 1988, Halifax held our first PRIDE March. In 2018, we'll be celebrating our 30th Anniversary.
The Stonewall Inn is the birthplace of the gay liberation movement -- when on the weekend of Judy Garland's death a group of drag queens and other patrons of the bar fought back against police harassment and made history by saying "no" to intolerance and "yes" to empowerment. The Stonewall patrons refused to be treated as second class citizens.
Every year gay men and lesbians celebrate our pride during the month of June in honour of the Stonewall rebellion, which took place on June 27, 1969. On that night police raided the Stonewall Inn for the second time in a week. Although such raids on gay bars were common around that time, the police action that evening was particularly virulent.
This night was far different than past raids: on this evening the drag queens inside the bar, as well as other patrons and passerby outside, had decided they would no longer be pushed around by a hostile police force. After a short while, as the cops raiding the bar lost control of a growing crowd of people, a paddy wagon arrived.
The crowd began to throw things and attempted to turn the wagon over as the police pulled away. The enraged crowd, calling for gay liberation and encouraged by their growing numbers, was not going to let them off without a struggle. The rebellion continued the following night and would continue throughout the next week.
A lthough some of the faces naturally changed from night to night the patter remained the same. Gay people in the area became more militant in their opposition to the police and would themselves "patrol" the neighborhood, frequently arm in arm with another, not permitting the "authorities" to diminish in any way the growing gay visibility of the area.
The Stonewall events received more press than the gay liberation movement had heretofore seen. The spirit of protest in the country, stemming from the civil rights movement to the antiwar sentiment and the rebellion against President Nixon (who was increasingly out of touch with the younger generation), also fueled the fire of our movement, providing gay men and lesbian leaders with the momentum needed to more visibly continue our struggle for change.
In 1933, with the repeal of Prohibition, cops on the take would have lost all their extra income had it not been for gay bars. They were aided by a State Liquor Authority ban on serving homosexuals, and this was the basis of a shift in graft from what was being served -- to who. An occasional police raid kept the system in good running order and provided the boys in blue with the fun of putting on a good show.
No one could have imagined that this shakedown system could ever go out of fashion, but in 1969 it breathed its last. The Stonewall Inn at 51 Christopher Street opened in 1930, in street level space which was created by joining two former stables built ninety years earlier. Popular at first for weddings, by the late 1960's the crowd was male and ranged from college types to those who were more flamboyant. Rumors circulated about management ties to organized crime and a call-boy service being run on the second floor, but nobody really cared.
The Stonewall was a second home to those who were considered too outrageous to be allowed entry to the straight-laced jazz club two doors down. Perhaps it was the full moon, but what started as a police raid on June 28, 1969 ended in a full-scale riot. Although conservative patrons remained docile as they were turned out by the cops, their flamboyant bar mates, when they were roughed up, fought back. Seeing their friends roughed up, the crowd in the street reacted hurling epithets, then loose coins, then beer bottles and garbage cans.
The police called for assistance after they had barricaded themselves inside. The Tactical Patrol Force was there in minutes, in full riot gear. For hours the TPF charged the taunting crowd, which scattered through the irregular streets around Christopher Park and then regrouped. The police were dumbfounded as they never expected gays to fight back. But the defiance was as real as the guns the police had drawn.
The riot ended in the early morning with only a few injuries. Only the assumption that homosexuals would ever again accept prejudice and discrimination without resistance had died. Annual parades are now held at the end of June in most American cities to commemorate the Stonewall riot and the movement for gay rights that began on that night. The former Stonewall Inn now houses a men's apparel shop.
The Stonewall riots were a very essential part of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in America and around the world. The 1960s and previous decades were not welcoming to LGBTQ+ people and same-sex marriages were illegal. This led to many people hanging out in designated bars and clubs, where they could express themselves without worry.
In 1966 the Genovese family purchased the Stonewall Inn, which was located in Greenwich Village, New York. New York itself had regulations when it came to the LGBTQ+ community. These were set in place in bars and clubs by the New York State Liquor Authority, which prohibited staff from selling alcohol to known or suspected LGBTQ+ individuals. However these restrictions were often ignored as many bars operated without a liquor license due to being owned by the Mafia. This did not prevent them from being raided by the police and shut down.
The year the Genovese family purchased Stonewall in 1966, these regulations were overturned. A year later, Stonewall Inn opened after renovations officially as an LGBTQ+ bar. The family bribed police to ignore the activities in the bar and without police presence the location became popular and welcomed many LGBTQ+ youth and drag queens.
On the morning of June 28, 1969 police raided Stonewall, arresting thirteen people and roughing up many others. Sick of the constant harassment, and upon the abuse from police to a fellow LGBTQ+ member, patrons and onlookers began to riot. They threw rocks, pennies, and bottles at the police and tried to set barricades on fire. Firefighters arrived and disbanded the crowd but the riots continued until July 3, 1969
Although not the beginning of the LGBTQ+ Rights movement, Stonewall was a driving force for LGBTQ+ activism which led to the creation of many LGBTQ+ organizations and on the one year anniversary thousands of people marched from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park, which was known as the first gay pride parade in America.
This page is part of the HistoryProject