In the early hours of the 28th June, 1969, police raided Stonewall Inn, a popular place among young gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Immediately, they arrested 13 people. These individuals consisted of employees, who had been selling alcohol without a license, and people violating the state’s gender appropriate clothing statute, which disallowed cross dressing. When the officers left the bar, crowds outside became enraged. The police were jeered and many went on to throw coins and debris at them. It got so bad that the police had to barricade themselves inside the bar to await backup. The riots continued for a further 5 days…
During the 1960s, society was not very welcoming to the LGBT community which is why many individuals flocked to gay bars and clubs, as they were able to express themselves and socialise with others, without worrying. During this period, the New York State Liquor Authority, the place to go to for a license to sell alcohol, was very corrupt. Many places were penalised and shut down if they served alcohol to known or suspected LGBT individuals. They perceived homosexual gatherings to be “disorderly.” In 1966, this changed, allowing LGBT bars to start selling alcohol. However, it was still wrong to engage in ‘gay’ behaviour in public. This allowed police to continue to harass gay clubs and bars operating without licenses.
In 1966, the Genovese crime family, one of the five families that dominated crime activities in New York city and New Jersey, purchased the Stonewall Inn. They cheaply renovated it and reopened it the next year, as a gay bar. The bar was said to be a private bottle bar. This meant that it would not need a liquor license as individuals would bring their own liquor. In going to the club, individuals had to sign their names upon entry in order to maintain the club’s false exclusivity. The family, who had connections to dangerous people, would bribe the club’s wealthier guests who wanted to keep their sexuality a secret. In addition to this, the family had connections to people within the police. Many officers had been bribed by the family to ignore activities that were going on within the club. These officers would tip off the mafia bars in advance, which would allow them to stash alcohol that was sold without a license fee.
However, on the night of the raid, the bar had not been tipped off. The invasion of the club led to an uproar among the community. Particularly, among the LGBT community who had little spaces where they were accepted within society. Although this wasn’t the start of the LGBT movement, it was a catalytic force. Many gay rights organisations began as a result of this night and the days which followed it. On the year anniversary of the raid, a march began. The Christopher Street Liberation Day march, named after the epicenter of New York city’s gay community, had an outcome of between 1,000-20,000 people (the number is not known). It started small but as the march walked 51 blocks north, the numbers increased majorly, with people shouting “say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud.”
On the 2nd of June, 2000, President Bill Clinton declared June as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” in order to commemorate the June 1969 Stonewall riots in Lower Manhattan. On the 1st of June, 2009, President Barack Obama expanded the commemoration further by declaring June “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.” The month, to this day, is a reflection of the years of struggle for the civil rights and pursuit of equal justice under the law for the LGBTQ community, as well as a celebration of how far the movement has come. Each year, Pride parades take place across the world in order to celebrate and support the community. Unfortunately, the parade in London has been cancelled this year because of the coronavirus. However, the organisers have pushed people to take digital actions in order to show their support for the movement.
Society is steadily becoming more accepting. Older generations, and the views of their time, are slowly dying out, which leaves the younger generations to learn from their mistakes and be more welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. Whilst it is good to learn from the past, we cannot become fixated on it. Instead of thinking who is to blame, which will cause further divide in society, we need to think ‘what next?’ That way, society will continue to evolve.