The Stonewall Uprising is most commonly recognized as what sparked the beginning of the LGBTQ+ movement. However, what many people don’t know are the events that led to the momentous night that propelled the entire movement forward.
The very first public demonstration for gay rights in the United States took place in 1964. Gay men, lesbian women, and straight supporters gathered in front of the U.S. Army building in Manhattan to protest the discrimination of homosexual people. Within the next six months, three more public demonstrations take place across the country, fighting for gay rights. Manhattan specifically became the area of choice for people all over the country who wanted to freely express their sexuality.
The Mattachine Society, one of the first known gay rights activist groups in the U.S., staged a “sip-in” in New York in 1966. The demonstration was inspired by the Greensboro sit-ins that happened earlier in the same decade. Dick Leitsch, who was head of the Mattachine Society at the time, led himself, Randy Wickler, and Craig Rodwell into a bar called Julius and demanded to be served.
In the ‘60s, disorderly conduct was enough of a reason for police officers to revoke liquor licenses, though what constituted “disorderly conduct” was often being gay. This gave bartenders the legal right to refuse service to whomever they wished. Despite this, the men from the Mattachine Society challenged the authority and publicly exposed the discrimination.
With the traction from the sip-in, more gay bars and restaurants opened in the next couple of years, clustering primarily around Greenwich Village. The most notable of all of them was the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall Inn was home to all LGBTQ+ identities, not just the white men and women. Two prominent figures in transgender rights activism made frequent appearances at the bar: Marsha P. Johnson, a black drag queen and activist, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latinx drag queen and activist. In other gay bars and restaurants, they would not have been so welcome, but the Stonewall Inn did not discriminate by race or by age. This made it home to many of the LGBTQ+ youth in New York.
The Genovese family, one of the biggest organized crime families in New York City, saw the Stonewall Inn as a good business opportunity, and bought it. They paid off the police to notify them before a raid, which would allow them to protect their visibly gay customers and give them time to hide the alcohol. However, on June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn unannounced on a busy weekend night.
The crowd at the Stonewall Inn that night watched from outdoors as some of their peers were apprehended by the New York Police. One of the women from the crowd yelled for help as she was being escorted into a car, and that sparked the uprising. The crowd threw bottles and pennies at the police, and the LGBTQ+ community proved to the world that they were not to be messed with any longer. For the first time in history, the police retreated that night.
Up until that night, the gay rights movement had been passive and peaceful. Stonewall not only served as a monument of representation, but it also became the turning point in the movement. The LGBTQ+ community refused to be silent and demanded justice unlike they had ever done before. Peaceful protesting and silent demonstrations were no longer in the picture, thanks to the riots that continued in front of Stonewall Inn for days to come.
Events from the Stonewall uprisings are coined as the catalyst for the LGBTQ+ movement that continued for decades to come. Activist groups such as the Mattachine Society were notoriously discrete about their purpose, not even putting the word “gay” in their name. The Gay Liberation Front was formed soon after the Stonewall riots took place as a more aggressive unapologetic activist group. One year later, on the anniversary of the riots, the first pride marches took place. The real fight for LGBTQ+ rights had begun.
Just five years ago on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal across all states. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights reached one of the most momentous points in history. However, winning the legalization of same-sex marriage is not the end of the fight. Transgender rights have yet to be granted. The Trump Administration recently attempted to end the civil rights protections for transgender people in healthcare. Shortly after, the Supreme Court shut the act down by declaring it unconstitutional.
All efforts made by individuals and organizations for LGBTQ+ rights throughout history have made an impact on society today. Just 50 years ago, the Supreme Court declaring transgender protection constitutional would be unheard of. Even declaring same-sex marriage legal would have been appalling to the American public. Every day and every contribution is a part of writing history, so it is the duty of the community and supporters to make voices heard, and follow in the footsteps of the brave brothers, sisters, queens, and non-binary individuals from the Stonewall uprisings and demand justice.
Featured Illustration: Dramamonster at English Wikipedia