The LGBTQIA+ Community has a long and storied history, both in the United States and across the world. While much of this history is painful, in honor of Pride Month I want to take a moment to celebrate one of the most impactful historical moments for our community: The Stonewall Riots. In this post we will talk about what the riots were, why they happened, and how we are still feeling the impact of them even fifty years later.
The Stonewall Riots occurred in 1969, a time where engaging in same sex relationships publicly was illegal and all states except Illinois enforced sodomy laws prohibiting same sex relationships even in private spaces. As a result of the legal and social pressures of the time, many members of the LGBTQIA+ community would gather at bars to mingle and have a space in which they could be their true selves. These bars were frequently raided by police who argued that serving alcohol to a person who is known to be in the LGBTQIA+ community was “disorderly”. Despite this pressure our community is and always has been tenacious and resilient, and as one bar would get raided another would open their doors.
In 1967 a mafia family in New York City opened a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, and it quickly rose to local prominence due to its cheap entry cost and its welcoming attitude towards drag queens. On June 28th, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by police. Initially, this raid was like any other, with bar patrons being physically assaulted and 13 people, including both bar employees and patrons, being arrested. As people left the bar and were instructed to disperse, a brave group of people refused to leave. Tired of the harassment and unjust laws against their identities, these individuals decided to take a stand. Famously it is said that Marsha P. Johnson, a Black drag queen, started the riots by throwing a brick at a window, however in researching this blog I have found conflicting historical sources to this claim with some sources stating that she arrived to Stonewall after the riot had already started. What is known though, is that as the police attempted to arrest yet another patron, members of the crown began throwing objects, lit the Inn on fire, and five days of riots ensued.
Over these five days of rioting dozens were arrested and multiple people suffered injuries, however happily there are no known deaths associated with the riots. The riots brought visibility to the LGBTQIA+ community and our plight. While Stonewall was not the first LGBTQIA+ uprising, nor the last, it is the most well-known. This is likely because it enabled the rise of well known figures such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to rise to prominence in advocating for LGBTQIA+ liberation. The riots led to the creation of many advocacy organizations that are still active today including PFLAG, GLAAD, and the Human Rights Campaign. I will include links to all three of these organizations below if you would like to learn more about the work that they have done and continue to do.
I want to end this blog by talking about an aspect of The Stonewall Riots that too often gets left out. While it is true that Stonewall is a landmark moment in LGBTQIA+ history, the progress that this community has made over the past 50 years is not because of just one or two people. I want to celebrate the thousands of people who took to the streets to protest for their rights or the rights of those they love in 1969. I want to celebrate the millions of people who put in hard work and long hours in the years since so that in 2015 it was decided that people can marry the person that they love regardless of their gender. Most importantly, I want to celebrate the people who are currently doing the work to create a better and more just world whether that is through political advocacy, supporting each other, or simply living as your truest self.
Happy Pride everyone!
Human Rights Campaign: https://www.hrc.org/