The Stonewall Riots: LGBT+ History Month
It was a hot summers evening on June 27th, 1969. Marsha P.Johnson was in the Stonewall Inn, New York celebrating her 25th birthday.
In the early hours of June 28th eight undercover police officers raided the packed LGBT venue, for the second time in a week. This was common in an era when nearly all aspects of LGBT life were criminalised, including cross-dressing. The police singled out the bar’s employees, drag queens and other cross-dressing patrons for arrest.
In New York at this time homosexual acts remained illegal and bars and restaurants could get shut down for having gay employees or serving gay patrons. Most gay bars and clubs in New York at the time (including the Stonewall Inn) were operated by the Mafia, who paid corrupt police officers to look the other way, deterring them from blackmailing the wealthy gay patrons with threats of “outing” them.
What Happened During The Stonewall Riots
That night, however, the crowd had had enough. They refused to disperse and patrons clashed with police as the confrontation escalated to include hundreds of demonstrators.
More NYPD officers arrived on foot and in 3 patrol cars. Meanwhile, outside crowds of onlookers were forming. A police van arrived and police began loading Stonewall employees and those believed to be cross-dressers inside. The crowd erupted when the police ‘roughed up’ a woman dressed in masculine attire and began taunting the officers, throwing pennies at them, followed by bottles and slashed the tyres of the police vehicles.
Sylvia Rivera was in the crowd that gathered outside the bar as anger in the neighbourhood rose. Sylvia, a 17-year-old Puerto Rican drag queen, is cited as one of the first bystanders to throw a bottle, a big deal given the power dynamics of the situation with police. Talking about the Stonewall Riots years later, Rivera remembered, “This was started by the street queens of that era, which I was part of, Marsha P. Johnson and many others that are not here.”
This resulted in a set of demonstrations known as the Stonewall Riots; a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community. There were three nights of unrest where activists were fighting for spaces where people could be open about their sexuality without fear of being arrested.
Lesbians and trans women of colour were some of the key people involved in the acts of resistance, including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Stormé DeLarverie.
The Stonewall Riots set into motion what you know as the modern LGBT movement or the LGBT liberation movement, in the US and beyond.
We should remember much of the LGBT movement was led by minorities who remain oppressed today.
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About Gina Battye
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