Stonewall: Celebrating the First Pride

Liv George, Editor-in-Chief 

Yesterday was the anniversary of a historic day for the LGBTQ community. June 28 marks the start of the Stonewall protests which took place during the Summer of Love, 1969. After a raid on an underground gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, six days of violent protests broke out around New York City. These protests are referred to as the first-ever gay pride celebration. 

Stonewall was not so much an isolated incident as it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In New York, it was essentially illegal to be gay. Gay people could be refused service at a bar for their sexuality, kissing or dancing with a same-sex partner was illegal, as well as the solicitation of same-sex relations. 

Due to the strict laws around homosexuality, particularly in bars, members of gay rights organizations would go to bars and declare their sexuality while ordering a drink. When they were reduced service, they simply would not leave the bar. These were referred to as “sip-ins” and started a full three years before Stonewall. 

The Stonewall Inn was a very unique place, even for a gay bar. A $3 entry fee got you two drinks and entry all night. Dancing was allowed, which was uncommon for gay bars. Stonewall was a place for those who did not fit in at normal gay bars to congregate and be themselves fully. The bar welcomed those from all sexualities, gender identities and backgrounds. Since the bar was not particularly concerned with legality, even underage patrons gained entry. This particularly appealed to homeless gay youth kicked out of their homes. Despite the mostly defunct building, the Stonewall Inn became a home for many people. 

History.com described the club in their piece on the protests.

“The club lacked a fire exit, running water behind the bar to wash glasses, clean toilets that didn’t routinely overflow and palatable drinks that weren’t watered down beyond recognition”

Due to the oppressive nature of bars towards the gay community, there was an underground network of gay bars run by the mafia and other organized crime families. This was not necessarily out of activism, but more so that organized crime partnered with corrupt police. Officers paid off by these families would warn the bars before a raid took place. These raids were largely performative, police would pat down a few patrons, confiscate a keg and leave.

This was not the case on Friday, June 28, 1969. Despite already raiding the Stonewall on Tuesday, eight plainclothes officers entered the Stonewall Inn. The bar was not warned beforehand. Upon entrance, the officers began detaining and arresting patrons. Anyone wearing clothing that did not appear to match their sex was taken to the bathroom and strip-searched. Those who appeared openly gay or were wearing clothing of the opposite sex were detained and loaded into a police bus referred to as a “paddywagon.” 

The New York Times spoke to a protestor in 2019, “‘They came in the bar. They slammed people against the wall. They shoved people, and they hurled insults that you can probably imagine,” said Mark Segal, 68, who participated in the protests that night.”

Rather than dispersing once the raid started, those who were not under arrest gathered outside the bar. As a woman, allegedly Stormé DeLarverie, was loaded into the bus, she complained of her handcuffs being too tight. As the crowd yelled at the police, the woman shouted at the crowd to do something. So they did. 

Someone in the crowd suggested that maybe the police were not paid off and conducted the raid to prove a point. Those gathered outside began throwing coins at the police officers. Then, a brick is thrown. It is highly contested as to who did it. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are two trans women of color credited with throwing the first brick at police. Both women have vehemently denied this point, but Marsha P. Johnson is infamous for her role in the protests nonetheless. 

Throwing the brick is what started the full-blown riot. Protestors began throwing bricks, stones, coins, bottles and anything else within reach at the police. The paddywagon was full and had to leave, meaning the police were outnumbered by protestors. As the group of protesters kept growing, police retreated into the Stonewall itself. History.com gives a summary of the events.

“Some rioters used a parking meter as a battering ram to break through the door; others threw beer bottles, trash and other objects, or made impromptu firebombs with bottles, matches and lighter fluid.”

The mob began to break up once the fire department showed up to put out the flames. The protests did not stop there, however. Stonewall Inn opened for business as usual the next day. Protestors returned, as well as riot police. Tear gas was thrown, but protests and rioting continued for six days total before dying out. The next year, on June 28, 1970, “Christopher Street Liberation Day” was held, a peaceful march for gay rights. This is considered the first-ever pride parade. 

Stonewall laid the groundwork for gay rights movements as we know them today. Since Stonewall, the following decisions regarding gay rights have been made.

The American Psychological Association took homosexuality off its list of mental disorders. 

In Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court decriminalized same-sex relations.

Same-sex marriage was federally legalized in the United States on June 26, 2015.

A national monument to Stonewall was built.

The New York Police Department publicly apologized for their actions during Stonewall. 

More recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act protects members of the LGBTQ community from workplace discrimination. 

Since Pride was canceled due to COVID-19, this year is a good time to look back at the history of Pride and remember how far the LGBTQ community has come.  

Information for this story courtesy of Time, The New York Times, History.com, CNN and the podcast “My Favorite Murder.”