The Night Pride Was Born
Sunday June 28, 2020 will mark the 51st anniversary of The Stonewall Riots and the birth of LGBTQ+ Pride.
To truly tell the story of what happened that night, we must start with the decades that preceded. As part of senator Joseph McCarthy’s second “Red Scare” during the 1940’s and 1950’s, homosexuality was widely considered a serious perversion and mental disorder, and therefore a clear and obvious threat to national security as well as American morality. Between 1947 and 1950 1,700 federal job applications were denied, 4,380 people were discharged from military service, and 420 people were fired from government jobs, all for suspicion of homosexuality. In 1952 homosexuality was officially added to the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and would not be removed until 1974. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s the FBI and police departments maintained lists of known homosexuals and their associates. The United States Postal Service kept records of addresses where materials pertaining to homosexuality were mailed. Cities across the country performed regular sweeps to rid communities and neighborhoods of homosexuals.
In the early 1960’s the mayor of New York City launched a new campaign to rid the city of establishments catering to homosexuals ahead of the 1964 World’s Fair. It became common for undercover police officers to use methods of entrapment to arrest as many homosexuals as possible.
In 1967 a dinner club called The Stonewall Inn was remodeled and reopened by the mafia as a private club and the only bar for gay men in New York City where dancing was allowed. The police were fully justified in raiding The Stonewall Inn. After all, the establishment had no running water, the windows were boarded up, and liquor was being served without a license. None of these offenses prevented The Stonewall Inn from operating, though, as police raids were merely a pretense for large amounts of cash to be passed from crime organizations to local law enforcement.
No one present at The Stonewall Inn in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 expected a police raid. Raids occurred early in the night and were preceded by a heads-up to management. And The Stonewall Inn had already been subjected to a police raid earlier that same week. Just after midnight four plainclothes officers, two uniformed patrol officers, a detective, and a deputy investigator entered The Stonewall Inn. Many patrons present at the time did not even realize what has taking place until it was too late. But they did know that they were growing weary of this regular harassment, and they had extraordinarily little, if anything at all, to lose by fighting back.
Nothing about this police raid went as expected. This night the men dressed in women’s clothing refused to be led by officers to a bathroom where their biological sex could be confirmed. This night the gay men refused to provide identification to the police. This night the lesbians protested the assault and excessive touching that the police called frisking. Adding to the steady rise in tension was the 15-minute wait for police transport, during which time those patrons who were released did not immediately disperse, choosing instead to wait with their detained brothers and sisters. The crowd had grown to at least ten times the size of the original group of patrons by the time the first police wagon arrived at the scene.
A police officer shoved a transvestite, and she responded by hitting him with her purse. A rumor that other patrons were still trapped inside and being beaten by police circulated through the crowd. A women being lead to a police wagon was hit over the head with a police baton for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight. She turned to the gathered crowd to ask why they weren’t doing anything to help. In an instant decades of oppression erupted in the middle of New York City’s Greenwich Village. Pennies , beer bottles, and bricks were hurled until the police barricaded themselves inside The Stonewall Inn.
One gay man present later said that the LGBT community had collectively taken it’s first stand in defense of their right to simply exist without constant fear and threat of arrest. He said that they all felt the same emotion ignite in that moment, and that emotion was pride.
Demonstrations continued for several days. One year later, on June 28, 1970, the anniversary of The Stonewall Riots was commemorated with the first LGBT Pride Marches in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Within a few years gay rights organizations had formed in every major US city and all around the world. On June 26, 2015 The US Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. And finally, in 2019, a full 50 years after that fateful morning, the New York City Police Commissioner released a formal public apology for the raid on The Stonewall Inn.
Continue learning about this pivotal moment in LGBT history:
Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America by Martin Duberman
The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History by Marc Stein
The Stonewall Reader edited by New York Public Library with Edmund White
We Are Everywhere: Protest, Power, and Pride in the History of Queer Liberation by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown
The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman
What Was Stonewall? by Nico Medina, Who HQ, and Jake Murray