The Stonewall Riots

It started as just another bar raid.

It was the last weekend of June, 1969 and New York City was in the midst of a mayoral campaign - always a rough time for the city’s homosexuals, and establishments that catered to them.

The Stonewall Inn, on Christopher Street in the heart of Greenwich Village, was certainly an inviting target. The Stonewall was a dive, operating without a liquor license and run by organized crime. But it was also one of the larger bars at that time, so despite the watered down drinks and dirty glasses for many it was the only place to be. The customers were mainly college kids and middle class professionals and the "fluffy sweaters" as the effeminate young men were known at the time. You were only allowed in if someone on staff knew or at least recognized you; such screening was to protect customers from police entrapment attempts, which were common.

Police and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Board agents entered the Stonewall in the early hours of Saturday June 28 allegedly to look for violations of the alcohol control laws. They made the usual homophobic comments, giving special attention to several transvestites and drag queens present, and then after checking identification threw the two hundred or so patrons out of the bar one by one. People gathered outside waiting for their friends; many of who treated their emergence as a camp theatrical event. Street people and curious bystanders joined the crowd. The mood of the crowd was jovial, cheering for their favourites as the exited the building.

That mood changed when a police van pulled up and then carted off a couple of staff and three drag queens. The crowd began to jeer. Then police tried to get the last patron, a lesbian, into a nearby patrol car. "She put up a struggle" the Village Voice reported, "from car to door to car again." The crowd responded by pelting the police with coins, and then bottles and bricks. The agents and police retreated inside and bolted the door, wrecked the place, and called for reinforcements.

Things began to escalate when someone threw a rock through the second story window. An uprooted parking meter was used as a battering ram against the bolted door. Someone tried to set the bar on fire with the police in it. Inside the police became increasingly nervous with one officer pointing his gun out the door warning people to back off. Reinforcements arrived with sirens and lights blazing to find a crowd of about four hundred ready to battle.

By the following night ‘Gay Power’ graffiti started to appear in the neighborhood. Restless crowds of as many as two thousand returned to the site of the bar on both Saturday and Sunday night to protest the police actions. Hundreds of riot police responded to the protests. By Sunday night people were already discussing what was already being viewed as the first gay riot in history and what they needed to do next.

Almost immediately Stonewall began to be memorialized in the Unite States. Before the end of July, women and men in New York formed the Gay Liberation Front. Word spread rapidly across North America and within a year ‘gay liberation’ groups numbered over 300 and many used "Stonewall" or "Christopher Street" in their names.

The first demonstration (a march) in commemoration of the Stonewall rebellion was held in New York in August of 1969. The following year "Gay Power" gave way to the term "Gay Pride" for the Christopher Street Liberation Day March and other events held in New York (and elsewhere) to mark the June anniversary of the uprising, and the tradition of Pride was born.


For more info on Stonewall see the HistoryOfGayPride.

The page PrideCelebrations contains historical information about Pride festivals in Halifax.

This page will provide details on the creation of the RainbowFlag.