Going to Stonewall is a queer rite of passage.
It’s probably the number one post-parade destination during Pride weekend, but there’s a storied history behind this iconic gay bar that earned this hallowed hall of LGBTQ+ history it's Obama-ordained landmark status.
Before we delve into the riots that erupted at Stonewall in 1969, you should know that being queer was illegal in the years preceding the riots; “solicitation of homosexual relations” was illegal and police officers could arrest anyone wearing less than three gender-appropriate items of clothing.
Stonewall and places like it were safe havens for anyone looking to share time with members of the same sex or anyone looking to express themselves outside the parameters of the gender binary.
Stonewall was one of the few remaining gay bars operating as the New York State Liquor Authority continued to shut down establishments known to serve the LGBTQ+ community, deeming these places “disorderly”.
In 1966, these regulations were overturned, but that did not mean that oppressing queer spaces became a thing of the past; police were still raiding gay bars as public displays of were illegal.
Stonewall managed to elude the New York State Authority’s strict liquor license laws due to the establishment’s association with one of New York’s largest crime families. That’s right - Stonewall has mafia ties. Or did.
Who’s to say!
The Genovese family owned most of the queer establishments in Greenwich Village and used the secret-bar-speakeasy skills they honed during the prohibition era to keep their gay bars off police radars.
Stonewall’s mafia ties are also one of the reasons that the bar was able to avoid being shut down before the riots erupted, as corrupt cops would often tip off the owners as to when a raid was about to happen. Patrons were allowed to flee the scene before anyone was arrested and everyone inside could pretend Stonewall was a regular old straight bar, just serving straight people straight drinks to drink at their straight tables on straight stools. Super straight. Totally straight. Nothing to see here.
But on June 28th, nobody was tipped off. In the early hours of the morning, Stonewall was raided. Officers harassed patrons and arrested 13 people, including Stonewall employees. Efforts to take patrons into custody were so aggressive and invasive, they included female officers took suspected crossdressers into bathrooms to check their genitals in order to charge them with not adhering to their gender-appropriate clothing laws.
Neighborhood residents and Stonewall attendees gathered around the site of the raid, instead of dispersing.
The assembled mass began retaliating, throwing bottles at police officers and escalating to a street-wide, neighborhood-spanning riot that didn’t stop for the following five days.
The Village Voice published a story about the event, inciting more protesters to come. At times the protesters’ numbers reached the thousands. The riot did not instigate immediate change, but it did send a statement that queer people were no longer taking treatment as second-class citizens lying down.
The first Pride parade took place in June of 1970, honoring the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Today’s present Pride month continues to honor the anniversary of the five days of riots each year, in addition to the members of the LGBTQ+ community lost to hate violence, homelessness, AIDS + HIV, and suicide.
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