The Stonewall Riots: Birth Of A Movement
The night of June 28th, 1969 began another portion of the civil rights movement in America: the gay rights movement.
The Stonewall Inn was a small bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City. It was rumored to be owned by the Mafia, but to most people it was a quiet place where gay people in 1960s New York City could go to socialize and be out of the closet for a few brief hours.
In 1960s New York City, it was illegal for bars to serve liquor to homosexuals or suspected homosexuals. The lawmakers in the state felt that homosexuals were a menace and by giving them liquor, trouble was just around the corner. Like the few other gay bars in the area at the time, the Stonewall Inn operated without a liquor license. Raids for serving liquor illegally were quite common, almost a nightly occurence. The police would enter a bar, force the patrons outside, arrest most or all of them, and fine the bar owners. Many times, the arrested men and women had their names published in the papers the next day, which meant they were in constant danger of losing jobs and homes.
But that June night in 1969 was different.
Around 3 AM, several policemen entered the bar and ordered the patrons outside. Many of the patrons, mostly white men, were docile and followed orders. Some of the other patrons, Hispanic and African Americans and drag queens, were roughed up by police as they were forced outside. When the growing crowd saw the police acting this way, they started tossing pennies and shouting at them. Soon, the crowd grew angrier and started throwing beer bottles and garbage cans.
The police barricaded themselves inside the Stonewall Inn and called for backup. While inside, they began smashing the place to bits: mirrors, tables, cigarette machines, all destroyed (the police were never charged with vandalism). Backup police soon arrived in full riot gear. The confrontation with the crowd lasted into the morning hours, and flare-ups and small riots continued for the next few days.
Everyone was shocked that the homosexuals fought back. Most gay people at the time were so afraid of losing everything when outed that they stayed in the closet and out of the way of the police. But these riots proved to the police and to the world that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered men and women of New York City, and the world, would not give up without a fight.
The Stonewall Riots are regarded as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. Marches are held in many cities each year at the end of June to commemerate this historic event. The Stonewall Riots stand for oppressed people demanding to be treated as human beings, as the Constitution of the United States promises.