In honor of June being Pride Month, we will be writing a four-week blog series on the history and current issues the LGTBQ+ community in America has faced.
In the 1960s, homosexual relationships and behavior were illegal in New York City. People could be arrested for their clothing, holding hands, kissing, or dancing with someone of the same sex (History.com). Because of this, gay bars became a place of refuge for people. They could go to bars or clubs and be open about their sexuality without fear of being arrested. As these gay bars became more popular in New York, the state penalized and shut down many establishments that served alcohol to individuals in the LGBTQ+ community by arguing that serving alcohol to this group was disorderly (History.com). In 1966, this was overturned through the efforts of many activists. However, gay relationships and behavior displayed in public was still illegal. Therefore, the police continued to harass individuals at the bar and club safe havens (History.com).
In the mid-1960s, the Genovese family purchased Stonewall Inn and renovated its space into a gay bar. Stonewall Inn became a typical Mafia-run bar: costs could be cut in anyway the family saw fit because they did not have to go by the state’s regulations (History.com). However, this space quickly became a place where the LGTBQ+ community felt safe and comfortable to live freely. It was very literally a “temporary refuge from the street” (American Experience). Patrons at the bar could dance freely with same-sex partners and feel unafraid. There was even a warning signal set up for when the police were coming. People would see a light turn on in the middle of the ceiling, indicating the police were coming (American Experience). Because of the preparation for the police coming, patrons could still feel safe. Stonewall Inn became an iconic, important peace of New York City for the LGTBQ+ community.
On June 28, 1969 everything changed. The police raided Stonewall Inn and the individuals inside were not prepared. Because the police had a warrant, they “entered the club, roughed up patrons, and, finding bootlegged alcohol, arrested 13 people, including employees and people violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute” (History.com). The LGTBQ+ community was fed up with the amount of harassment they were facing from the police. Some of the customers and people in the neighborhood stayed outside the bar, instead of leaving. As the events unfolded over a series of a few days, people were mistreated and injured by the police officers present (History.com). When the riots escalated, the police, a few prisoners, and a news writer barricaded themselves in Stonewall Inn, and the mob tried to set the building on fire with them inside (History.com). The protests continued in the area for five more days, thousands of individuals participated. Ultimately, the events at Stonewall Inn acted as a way of saying "enough is enough!" The community was done pretending that the poor treatment of the LGTBQ+ community was okay.
The events that happened at Stonewall Inn were some of the most influential events in the LGTBQ+ community’s history. Because of the uprising at Stonewall Inn, the LGTBQ+ political activism increased dramatically. It led to many gay rights organizations being formed and an increase in activism in the gay rights movement (History.com). While the gay rights movement had previously began in 1924 with the Society for Human Rights being formed in Chicago, protests fighing for equal rights and acceptance began after the events at Stonewall Inn (Infoplease.com). Today, Stonewall Inn is regarded as a very important piece of history. In 2016, President Obama designated Stonewall Inn and its surrounding areas as a national monument to recognize gay rights in America (History.com). Today, people can visit Stonewall Inn and remember its impact on the LGTBQ+ community.
American Experience: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/stonewall-inn-through-years/
For additional information:
The Stonewall Inn: https://thestonewallinnnyc.com/
The Stonewall Inn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaAwtO3UUpM
If you would like to learn more about your rights or believe that you have been discriminated against please visit the Civil Rights Justice Center located at 2150 N. 107th Street in Seattle Washington or visit our website at civilrightsjusticecenter.com