On June 28th, 1969, the Stonewall Riots broke out when the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village in New York City.
In the 1960s gay bars and clubs were safe havens for LGBTQ folks who were unable to be fully themselves anywhere else. These places were for people to socialize without worry or fear in a time when expressing any kind of same-sex affection was illegal. The Stonewall Inn was one of these places until police stormed in and started dragging employees and patrons out of the bar.
The result was a rallying of the community and neighborhood in protests and riots that lasted for 6 days. The movement was largely led by the most oppressed in the LGBTQ community; trans women of color, drag queens, homeless LGBTQ+ teens, sex workers, as well as gay, bi, and lesbian people. Many consider The Stonewall Riots as the origin of the modern gay rights movement.
The Stonewall Riots were the first steps towards an organized gay rights movement. They were the first steps to marches for Pride. They were the first steps to reversing the opinion in the medical community that homosexuals needed psychological treatment. Federal laws discriminating against gay and lesbian people slowly changed, and lawmakers struck down anti-sodomy laws. In 1977, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in the state of California. In the decades that followed Stonewall, the Supreme Court granted marriage equality to gay and lesbian couples. Although progress was often slow, Stonewall was the first step in the fight for LGBTQ + equality, a fight that continues today.
The People Who Made It Happen
Marsha P. Johnson
Johnson was a Black trans woman, drag queen, and sex worker who frequented the Stonewall Inn. Most of the LGBTQ+ community and historians widely consider Johnson as one of the most significant leaders of the Riots after she threw a shot glass threw a window in protest of the injustices she saw at the hands of the police. After the Riots, she and Sylvia Rivera founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Together they fought to help homeless transgender youth in New York City. She was also an AIDS activist until her death in 1992.
To learn more about Marsha’s life and death, watch this wonderful Netflix documentary about her called The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.
DeLarverie was another spark that lit the fire of the Stonewall Riots. She was a Black butch lesbian whose confrontation with the police, according to some sources, led the crowd to take action. Reports conflict in regard to the exact moment that sparked violence. However, many sources claim the police’s treatment of Storm is what set it off. She was an active participant in the Gay liberation movement long after Stonewall. She was also an advocate for battered women and children throughout her life.
Rivera was a Puerto Rican and Venezuelan drag queen who, along with Marsha P. Johnson, established the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. Sources attribute Rivera as one of the first to fight back against the police, a claim that she has denied and has been confused over the years. Some have denied she was ever even present at the riots, but her activism and advocacy afterward cannot be denied.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
Miss Major was a Black trans woman and activist who was at the Stonewall Inn with a girlfriend when police raided the bar and the riots began. As a result of the Riots, police officers beat her and took her into custody. She alleged that a corrections officer broke her jaw during her incarceration. After Stonewall, she participated in many rallies and grassroots movements. She eventually moved to California and focused her advocacy on incarcerated, addicted, or homeless trans women. She also served various HIV/AIDS organizations.
The next time you see a Pride parade Instagram picture that looks like it could be the cast of Vanderpump Rules, remember that these Black activists are the reason those parades are possible.