June 28, 1969: Police raid the Stonewall Inn. Located in New York City, it was built between 1843 and 1846 as stables. It was turned into a restaurant in 1930 and continued to operate as such until it was gutted by a fire in the mid-1960s. It reopened on March 18, 1967 as a bar owned and operated by the Mafia. It was a meeting place for gays and attracted some of the most marginalized of this subset of clients – drag queens, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless teenagers. It was often raided and yet, when the police entered on this night as was their routine, they quickly lost control of the situation. A crowd gathered outside Stonewall and sided with the gays against the police. Greenwich Village had more protests the next night and again several nights later.
The late 1960s were a time of social ferment with many social movements gaining momentum. The Civil Rights movement and antiwar demonstrations were part of 60s counterculture as many looked for social equity given to all American citizens. The LGBT community wanted the same things. At the time, it was illegal to practice homosexuality. Gays were tracked by both local police and the FBI. Their gathering places were raided and after arrests, they were vilified in the media with many upstanding citizens not only facing jail time, but losing their jobs and the respect of the community at large. The American Psychiatric Association included homosexuality as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1952 where it remained until 1973.
Homophile groups (what pro LGBT groups were called) advocated for the rights of all citizens, helped with education, and helped to fund cases against “deviant behaviors” for their members. One of the first gay rights groups was the Mattachine Society formed in Los Angeles in 1950. Over time, their focus came to be acceptance of gays into society and respect for their lives. After the World War II, Greenwich Village and Harlem in New York City had sizable homosexual populations. With the raid on one of their posts on this night, they had had enough. At 1.20 AM on this Saturday night, four plainclothes police, two uniformed police and a Detective and Deputy Inspector crashed the party.
The raid did not go as planned. All patrons were to line up and have identification ready. Female police officers were to take all customers dressed as women to the bathroom and check out their physique. Any males would be arrested on the spot. But on this night, the people dressed as women refused to cooperate and the men refused to hand over identification. Everyone recalls that the atmosphere quickly turned and things got out of hand. A crowd assembled outside and things got physical until a full scale riot broke out. The date is commemorated with Gay Pride marches, the first of which took place one year later on June 29, 1970.
Things happened so fast you kind of got caught not knowing. All of a sudden there were police there and we were told to all get in lines and to have our identification ready to be led out of the bar. – Michael Fader
When did you ever see a fag fight back?… Now, times were a-changin’. Tuesday night was the last night for bullshit… Predominantly, the theme [w]as, “this shit has got to stop!” – anonymous Stonewall riots participant
My biggest fear was that I would get arrested. My second biggest fear was that my picture would be in a newspaper or on a television report in my mother’s dress! – Maria Ritter (then known as Steve)
You’ve been treating us like shit all these years? Uh-uh. Now it’s our turn!… It was one of the greatest moments in my life. – Sylvia Rivera (who had been in full drag on the night of the riot)
Also on this day: The Kelly Gang – In 1880, Ned Kelly was captured.
Going Home – In 2000, Elián González was sent back to Cuba.
Conformation Dog Show – In 1859, the first show was held.
Boxed In – In 1948, Dick Turpin won his boxing match.
Battle of Sullivan’s Island – In 1776, one of the first American victories of the Revolutionary War took place.
* “Stonewall riots” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Stonewall_riots.jpg#/media/File:Stonewall_riots.jpg