Today marks the anniversary of the Stonewall riots. In the early
morning hours of June 28, 1969, the New York City police department
carried out a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a popular Gay Bar in the
Greenwich Village .The move was a clear condemnation by law enforcement
officials of the city's underground gay population Yes it was a dive
bar, but even that characterisation was optimistic, since it couldn't
get a ligour license. It's drinks were bootlegged and heavily watered
down. The contents of no bottle ever matched its label. There were no
fire exits and there was no running water. But in that Greenwich Village
Tavern, there was music, there was dancing, and there was freedom. It
was a place of sanctuary, and one of the only places for New York's gay
community to socialise and truly be themselves.
Pror to 1962, same sex relationships were a felony in every state, making it illegal for people of the same sex to show affection towards one another, dance with each other or even just be together. often punished by lengthy prison sentences. Same-sex loving men and women met in secret, fearing the long-term consequences of exposure. Gender nonconforming indiiduals and cross-dressers might find themselves shunned to the fringes of society. Early efforts at LGBTQ activism had smoldered for years before Stonewall. There had been riots in other gay spaces before. And there had certainly been plenty of police raids at the Stonewall in the past. But the anger that erupted on this day when police attempted to arrest patrons of the Stonewall Inn, sparked a uprising that galvanised the LGBTQ civil rights movement as we know it today.
It was a raid like so many others, but this time after some patrons and local residents witnessed police barging into the bar, slaming people against the walls, calling them derogatory names, and then taking money from their wallets. When police finally let patrons oout of the bar and ordered them to disperse they refused, and after an officer struck a prisoner on the head, they spontaneously fought back against years of oppression by hurling rocks and bottles at the police, anything in fact within arm's reach.A number of people even wrestled a parking meter from the ground and tried to use it as a battering ram. The police, fearing for their safety, locked themseles inside the Stonewall Inn as the angry mob outside grew into the thousands. Some were attempting to set the property on fire.Following media coverage of the event, thouusands protested and clashed with riot police over the next six days,.Reinforcements were eventually able to get the crowd under control, well for one night at least. But people had discovered a power that they were not even aware they had, releasing a sense of pride and liberation.