Hi friends, not many of us know this, but October is the LGBTQIA+ History Month.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “What? Surely you mean that’s in June, right?! Isn’t June Pride Month?” Yes, yes it is! However, in Canada, we recognize October as a month to celebrate and acknowledge Queer history, even though our government does a horrendous job at doing so. And let me take this quick second to remind you all; Pride is everything fucking day.
Now, many of us by now will have some idea of what the Stonewall Riots were and what it has done for Queer people today. We’re gonna talk about exactly what Stonewall is, what had built up to the historical event, and the many activists that were part of the riots and their pivotal role LGBT Liberation. In this TED talk I will (lol I’m sorry, I had to.)
In Edmund White’s foreword in the The Stonewall Reader he goes on to describe that most revolutionary events are not of a singular moment, but of a gradual build of unrest.
“The Stonewall uprising protested a police raid on a Mafia – owned gay bar and dance spot that had no running water, where glasses were ‘washed’ in filthy suds and reused, and which was ‘protected’ by straight, extortionate Mafia goons./ these uprisings came along at the right historical moment/ gays, who almost never resisted arrest, stood up for themselves at last.”
During much of the 1950’s and 1960’s, gay bars were frequently being raided by police. Police officers would often go undercover in plainclothes to identify anyone who was queer or gender queer in order to incite arrests.
“There were many causes of this historical resistance. Throughout the early 1960’s the city had shut down gay bars out of the deference to tourists visiting the World’s Fair.”
The Stonewall Riot began on June 28th at 3 o’clock in the morning, and it went on for three more days afterwards. Gays, Lesbians, Queers, Trans people, and Drag Queens all rallied to corner off Sheridan Square. Throughout the multiple days and nights of protesting,
“Most historians would argue that major events such as gay liberation are not sudden but gradual, incremental; as someone who lived through Stonewall I would claim that the uprising was decisive.”
Predeceasing Stonewall, the 1950’s and 60’s was a time where Queer rights groups were starting to rise. The Mattchine Society was one group that, frankly, not very many knew about, even White didn’t know about them at the time. “There were small gay rights groups such as the Mattachine Society, most gay people (including this one) had hardly heard of them.” Other gay political groups that had been rising since the 1950’s also included the Daughters of Bilitis, The Janus Society, the Society of Individual Rights, and the Erickson Educational Foundation. We even see other appearances of Gay Liberation Front, the Radicalesbians, Gay Activist Alliance, and the Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries. With many of these small pollical group, we see a creation of Queer media, news, and print exploding all over the scene and making its way around, creating little forms of information networks.
Before Stonewall, there were other instances in which we’ve seen protest for Queer rights. With the rising of Queer political groups, we were gaining and creating a language to fight for equity, for equality, and for recognition. We can see this in the examples of Cooper Do-nuts Riot in LA in 1959, Dewey’s Restaurant sit-in in Philadelphia in 1965, Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco that took place in 1966, and LA’s Black Cat Tavern in 1967. We even see demonstrations happening within Washington D.C in 1965 with members of the Mattachine Society leading the picketing.
Stonewall wasn’t necessarily the first time we’ve witnessed gay resistance against police forces or other government forces, but it often gets acknowledge to be the turning point in which where Queer were fully unafraid to stand up for themselves and that it became a convergence and shift in attitudes; that enough is enough, Queer people exist, and demand their space.
Let’s recount the events of Stonewall. On June 24th, 1969, The NYPD’s First precinct had organized a raid. However, a few days later, The Stonewall Inn went back up and running. On June 28th, the police had raided again with the intention of shutting the bar down for good. That night, when raids happen, most of the patrons would leave. However, they remained outside of the bar, and when a Police van approached to take away those who had been arrested, the crowd had fought back. Police had faced resistance like nothing they had ever experienced before. The crowd started to barricade the police in the bar so that they couldn’t escape. The street had began to fill with gay patrons of the Stonewall and of the Village, and even weekend tourists had looked on in sympathy. Jovial =, they were singing and chanting slogans like “Gay Power,” “We Want Freedom Now,” and “Equality for Homosexuals.” They spilt off the sidewalk and began to overflow Sheridan Square Park. The crowd began to slow down and stop traffic. Christopher street, from Greenwich to Seventh Avenue had become a mass of protestors. Police from the Fifth, Sixth, Fourth, and Ninth precinct tried to control the crowd, but hundreds of cops couldn’t match the near two thousand people in the streets. Even when the cops tried to take prisoners, the crowd would fight back and retrieve anyone that was getting arrested. By 2:30 am, the crowd had dispersed and most of them where on the Docks having the time of their lives as the Police started to block off “The Corner” (Greenwich Avenue and Christopher Street.) Thirteen people were arrested, and many others were detained and released.
Through The Stonewall Reader, there are many different accounts and perspectives of what was happening at the time of Stonewall. Dick Leitsch of the Mattachine Society recalls physical accounts of the Stonewall Riot in The Hairpion Drop Heard Around The World. Howard Smith’s View from Inside: Full Moon Over Stonewall Recounts his shift shadowing Deputy Inspector Pine, who was marshaling the raid against Stonewall. Smith is a journalist and was the only one to write about the experience of being locked into Stonewall with the cops. Recounting the moment of when the cops pull a random protestor into the bar with them to start physically abusing him as they realize they are outnumbered and can’t fight against a crowd that has barricaded them in. There is the counterpart to this perspective as Lucian Truscott IV writes Views from the Outside: Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square, he recalls the moments of when it started. With the time of waiting for the patron to be released, and as they exited the bar, they would swish around and limp their wrists, and give a “hey there, fella” taunting the detectives as they joined the crowd waiting outside the Stonewall. But as soon was the police van arrived, the mood changed. Drag queen were getting loaded into the van along with bartenders and other workers of the Stonewall. The chorusing turned into catcalls and jeers. When a lesbian (later to be revealed it was Stormé DeLarverie,) was being arrested, she struggled from the door of the bar to the police car, she managed to escape it, but the cop had flung her into the backseat, as soon as the car drove off, everything exploded. Beer cans and bottles were flung to the windows and a rain of coins descended on the cops. This became the revolutionary shift, the image of people they would call “fairies,” and “sissies” would be the exact people they were shielding themselves from. Drag queens, queer people, trans people of colour, all united throughout Christopher Street for their liberation.
Over the next several days, up until July 2nd, there were continuous protests happening despite being beaten and tear gassed by cops. Then, a full year later, in June 28 of 1970. Everyone had gathered on the one-year anniversary on the raid of Stonewall and marched on for Gay Power and Liberation. Two different marches happened on that day, one in New York, and one in Los Angeles. This was the first time anyone was acknowledging as “Gay Pride,” or rather for those in New York, who returned to Greenwich Village, they knew it as “Christopher Street Liberation Day March. These marches became the catalyst to marches in the coming years.
A pioneering activist whose work has ranged across from Daughters of Bilitis, Gay Activists Alliance, and the National Gay Task Force, as well as with the American Psychiatric Association and American Library Associations.
A proud advocate and activist, Eckstein was crucial for women of Colour within the Queer front. She was vice president of the New York chapter of Daughters of Bilitis in the 1960’s, while also being involved in NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE.) She was prominent in participating in the picket in front of the White House in 1965 along with the Mattachine Society.
A pioneering in the Gay Rights movement. He was dismissed from a U.S. civil service position for being gay in 1957. His piece ‘Gay is Good’ and his fight against his dismissal in the courts had led all the way up to the Supreme Court. Even though he had lost his appeal, this had set a precedent. He had co-founded the Mattachine Society and was the first openly gay candidate to run for Congress.
Marsha P. Johnson
A Trans black activist who was a pivotal member of the Stonewall riots, she is allegedly to have “thrown the first brick.” She participated in and helped organized the Gay Liberation Front marches in New York, which would later become Pride. Along with Sylvia Rivera, she would set up Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) a charity and shelter for homeless transgendered youths. The ‘P’ in her name stood for ‘Pay It No Mind.’ Later, Marsha would also help open AIDS organization, ACT UP .
She lived openly as a Trans Woman, regardless of the hardships it brought her in life. She is one of the Stonewall veterans who fought back on that night. Along with Marsha P. Johnson, she would help co-found STAR. She would consistently campaign for Trans inclusion within the Queer community and had famously made a speech at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day rally highlighting the battle trans people were facing. She was a tireless and dedicated advocate and activist.
Theses are only a select few Queer Heroes that I have written here to recognize and acknowledge. I encourage you all to continue research, reading, and expanding our consciousness of Queer History, as it is often neglected in most forms of institutional education.
Stay Queer friends.
Check out these resources!
The Stonewall Reader Edited by The New York Public Library, Foreword by Edmund White. Penguin Books, 2019.
Love and Resistance: Out of the Closet into the Stonewall Era. The New York Public Library, foreword by Roxane Gay, Photographs by Kay Tobin Lahusen and Diana Davis. 2019.
Queerstory: An Infographic History of the Fight for LGBTQ+ Rights. Tiller Press. 2020.
The Queeriodic Table: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Culture. Harriet Dyer. Summersdale Publishers 2019.