Do you know why June is Pride month? While we might think June is a convenient time because it allows for nice weather during pride celebrations, June is also the month we commemorate the event which catalyzed Pride and the LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement- the Stonewall riots.
What led up to Stonewall?
While as a society we still have a long way to go in regards to advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights, during the 1960’s, these inequalities were even more apparent. LGBTQIA+ people faced hostile discrimination, mistreatment, and even violence. While we know that gay marriage was illegal at this time, public displays of homosexuality (such as kissing or holding hands) were also illegal- making it unsafe for gay people to openly date. Because of this widespread discrimination, the gay community was forced underground. Safe spaces such as gay bars and clubs popped up to serve as a refuge for LGBTQIA+ adults and youth.
The early 1960’s were a time marked with near-constant raids of gay bars in the New York area. Police claimed that serving alcohol to “known or suspected” LGBTQIA+ individuals was “disorderly.” Even after LGBTQIA+ activists overturned these alcohol restrictions in 1966, same-sex relationships were still illegal. This meant that police harassment of gay bars in New York continued because even dancing with someone of your same gender was punishable by the law.
What was Stonewall?
This became the backdrop for the Stonewall Riots- In the early hours of June 28, 1969 New York Police raided Stonewall Inn- a known gay bar in Greenwich.
Stonewall Inn had served as a safe haven for gay, lesbian, and transgender people as well as homeless youth (many of whom had been rejected by their families for being LGBTQIA+). While these raids against gay bars in New York were not uncommon, this time the raid sparked a revolution.
In the early hours of the police raid, two lesbian women (one of whom is believed to be Stormé DeLarverie) resisted arrest. Soon onlookers began engaging with the police throwing bottles and rocks.
It is believed that two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were said to have also resisted arrest and thrown the first brick. Their bravery in resisting led others to join in- eventually around 4 am the police retreated.
This led to a six-day long riot which eventually catalyzed the LGBTQIA+ Civil Rights Movement not only in the US, but around the world.
Why does Stonewall Matter?
It’s important to remember that the people who were fighting to protect Stonewall had nowhere else to go. Many of the youth who found solace in Stonewall Inn had been kicked out of their homes and communities because of their LGBTQIA+ identity. They were homeless and had nowhere else to turn. These underground bars and clubs were not only places to go, they were gatherings of chosen families.
Stonewall matters because it was widely considered the watershed moment that sparked the gay liberation movement in the United States. This year as we celebrate Pride, we can’t forget the sacrifice of LGBTQIA+ activists who fought for the rights we have today. While we still have a long way to go in fighting for LGBTQIA+ equality, we can carry the torch set forward by those who have gone before us.