Transcaster Radio: What happened at the Stonewall riots?

You’ve probably noticed that the LGBTQIA++ movement is slowly becoming more accepted and recognised across the world. Although there are still cases of homophobia against the members of this community, laws have been passed to make this world a better place for them. The United States legally recognised same-sex marriage in all fifty states in 2015, which was considered to be one of the turning points for gay couples. 

However, things weren’t always like this. Homosexuals were being openly harassed everywhere they go, murdered without remorse and discriminated against by the people they trust the most. You can’t just come out to anyone without the fear of being judged, mistreated and being called names. What’s even more heartbreaking is that the world embraced this practice. The world had blood on its hands.

Things changed for the better when movements began, including the Stonewall Riots. How did it launch a new era of resistance and change for the LGBTQIA++ community? Continue reading below to learn more.

Stonewall riots: How it started

It was just another summer night in 1969 in the United States. But things quickly turned around when police raided the Stonewall Inn—a bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It served as a safe place for gays, lesbians and transgenders where they could truly be who they are. 

To give you a bit of the background, this era proved to be violent and unaccepting of the LGBTQIA++ community. Homosexual acts were considered to be illegal in every state except Illinois. There are few establishments that openly welcomed gay people because the homophobic legal system of the United States urged citizens to shoo them away.

Restaurants were even forcibly closed just because there was a gay employee. The only reason why gay bars and clubs could continue their operations was that they were run by the mafia. They’d bribe police officers to avoid raiding their establishments and blackmailed powerful gay patrons by threatening to out them. 

Raids on gay bars were pretty much common and no one batted an eye. However, on that night, New York’s LGBT community decided to fight back. This uprising paved the way for a revolution that would still be remembered up to this very day.

Before the riots began, authorities conducted a raid on the Stonewall to arrest its employees and seize illegal liquor. Then, they planned another raid that would help them shut the bar down once and for all.

June 27-28, 1969

On a hot Friday night, the Stonewall Inn was crowded when eight undercover police officers entered the scene. Along with the bar’s employees, they also arrested drag queens and other cross-dressing people. During this time, ‘masquerading’ as a member of the opposite sex was considered illegal in New York City.

As the night went by, more officers arrived in three patrol vehicles. Some bar patrons who were released by the authorities joined the crowd of onlookers outside the bar. When the van arrived, NYPD officers began loading cross-dressers and employees inside.

June 28, 1969: The early hours

There are different stories about how the riots started. However, according to witness reports, the uproar kicked off when officers attacked a woman dressed in a masculine outfit which was believed to be lesbian activist Stormé DeLarverie. That’s when the onlookers started yelling at the police and calling them pigs and copper. People started throwing pennies and bottles at them, while others slashed the tires of the police cars.

Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution author David Carter believed that the riots started with the homeless kids. These were the young gay men who made Stonewall their home. It was the only place where they could feel safe in a world hellbent on ousting them.

Marsha P. Johnson and Slyvia Rivera—two transgender women of colour—were also believed to have resisted arrest. They were the first ones who threw the first bottle or brick against the cops. However, Johnson later revealed in a podcast that she did not arrive until the riot was already happening.

The factual events leading to the riot still remain unclear, unfortunately. 

4 a.m., June 28, 1969

When the police vans left to drop the prisoners off at the Sixth Precinct, the growing mob prompted the NYPD raiding forces to retreat inside the Stonewall to protect themselves from the rage of the protesters. 

To break through the barricades, some people used a parking meter while others made firebombs with bottles and lighter fluid. Then, the sound of sirens gave signs that more police officers are arriving along with the Tactical Patrol Force (TPF), New York City’s riot police. The officers walked down Christopher Street, but the rioters outmanoeuvred them. They ran away and circle the blocks of the Village to get behind the helmeted authorities.

Things settled down after 4 a.m. Although the riots were intense, no one died or suffered from critical injuries.

June 28-29, 1969

The Stonewall Inn, after an uproar that almost destroyed the place to pieces, opened the next night. A huge crowd of supporters showed up, chanting phrases like ‘we shall overcome’ and ‘gay power’ to keep the fire alive.

However, things were about to get ruthless again. The police came back to restore peace and order with the help of TPF officers. They tear-gassed and beat the crowd until the wee hours of the morning when the crowd separated.

June 29 – July 1, 1969

Gay activists took advantage of the situation to launch a widespread movement for gay rights. The following nights, they would gather near the Stonewall, build the community and raise awareness. Police officers were still hanging around the area, but the overall atmosphere of the place was less violent and confrontational.

July 2, 1969

Aside from the police violence the protesters experienced, the media industry also decided to jump in on the oppression. Village Voice published an article titled ‘the forces of faggotry’ which sparked the final night of rioting. Protesters gathered outside the paper’s offices and with some joiners wanting to burn the building down. The rioting began again when the police pushed back. But compared to the other riots, this one only lasted for a few hours, ending by midnight.

Village Voice wasn’t the only one who openly attacked the Stonewall riots. The New York Daily News also wrote homophobic slurs in its coverage with the headline ‘Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad’.

The Stonewall riots sparked that spirit of 60s rebellions, reaching the LGBTQIAA++ movement in the United States and across the world. This isn’t to say that the gay rights movement started at Stonewall. However, the historic rising paved the way for radical groups like the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) to be recognised.

June 28, 1970: The first-ever gay pride

The first anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn marked the first gay pride. New York’s gay activists organised the Christopher Street Liberation to start the city’s first pride Gay Pride Week. Hundreds of supporters started marching up 6th Avenue toward Central Park. As the procession progressed, the crowd eventually occupied some 15 city blocks with thousands of people flocking to the parade.

Eventually, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago were inspired to do the same. The activism that was born on the night of the Stonewall riots would slowly reach the gay rights movement in different countries like Canada, France, Australia and Britain, among others. 

Stonewall and its lasting impact on the gay rights movement

The Stonewall uprising happened in New York, but its lasting impact on the gay rights movement can be seen across the globe. A more radical sense of activism encouraged the community to be unapologetically who they are in a world that taught them how to hide. 

For the first time in history, the Stonewall riots formed solidarity in the community, mixing gays, lesbians and trans people in the same group. However, riots were not the only place or outlet for them to fight for their right to be who they are. Their newfound courage prompted them to press public officials and politicians regarding civil rights.

Today, more countries are starting to pass laws to give equal rights to the LGBTQIA++ community. As of writing, there are now 30 countries allowing same-sex marriage. But the disturbing fact is that the death penalty and imprisonment for homosexuals still exist in 11 countries. 

There’s no doubt that the riots that happened in Stonewall Inn sparked a resistance that gave the community more freedom to be their true selves. However, the fight is far from over. Trancaster Radio is here to hold your hand amidst the discrimination, violence and injustice happening to you. Like what Marsha P. Johnson said, ‘No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us’.

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