June 28th 1969 and why that date is so important in Gay History
Just after 3am on the 28th June 1969 the local New York Police Department raided a bar on New York City's Christopher Street. This was just one of the many raids that the patrons had endured. This raid ended differently, it had tested the patience of the patrons, who were mainly the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community like drag queens, the trans community, male sex workers and homeless youth and they had decided that night that they would fight back.
Although the police were legally justified in raiding the bar, which was owned by the mafia, as it was serving liquor without a licence among other violations, the local Greenwich Village gay community had grown weary of police interference and their heavy handed arrests. Once the riot began officers quickly lost control of the situation with the crowd outside the bar who had begun throwing bottles, pennies and rocks.
It is believed that a local patron and drag queen Marsha 'Pay it no mind' Johnson* was the first to throw a bottle at the police. She had seen a gay woman being manhandled into the back of a police vehicle; the woman looked at the crowd and shouted; 'Why don't you do something?'. Marsha responded to this by lobbing her drinks bottle at the police. Soon a wave of retaliation flowed through the crowd and the riot began.
Police reinforcements were called as the police at the scene had retreated into the bar and locked themselves in. The riots eventually stopped after several hours of clashes. By this time word had spread about the local Greenwich Community fighting back against the Police and the following evening even more people, patrons and local sympathizers alike, turned up to protest outside the bar. Every night, for several nights, the protest continued with more and more people turning up in support. The riots lasted for 6 nights in total.
Very quickly after the riots ended activist groups had been organised across New York. Soon other activist groups began popping up in other cities in the US and across the world.
12 months after the riots on 28th June 1970, the first gay pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago with similar marches organised in other cities.
The Stonewall Riots are widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and fight for LGBT rights in America and the across the world.
*The body of Marsha 'P' Johnson was found in the Hudson River on July 6th 1992. Police reported her death as suicide but locals had reported seeing Marsha arguing with a group of men earlier that afternoon. Many believe she was murdered.
Marsha was a beloved mother figure and activist for years after the Stonewall riots up until her death in 1992, she helped and mentored homeless youth and co-founded S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) who were a group formed in the early 70's to feed street youth around the city.
Useful documentaries (DVD/Online):
- Stonewall Uprising
- Before Stonewall
- After Stonewall
- Paris is burning
- Word is out