We've Had Enough of This S*it

By, Tim Crumbly & Meredith Jenkins

An Era of Repression

The 1950’s and 60’s was an extremely repressive social period for all LGBTQ citizens. During this time, homosexuality was still thought of us as a disease; members of the gay community faced rampant discrimination; businesses shunned homosexual customers; many suffered physical violence (even murder) from the hands homophobic Americans. Members of the homosexual community did find places where they could be themselves, such as bars and clubs owned by the mafia and other criminals. However, police raids on gay bars were frequent—occurring on average once a month for each bar. Bar management usually knew about raids beforehand due to police tip-offs. During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, and customers were lined up and their identification cards checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested; others were allowed to leave. Some of the men, including those in drag, used their draft cards as identification. Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing, and would be arrested if found not wearing them. Employees and management of the bars were also typically arrested.

It was during these repressive years that individuals and organizations began to come together and form the foundation of what later became the Gay Rights Movement. The movement humbly began on July 4, 1965 with a formal picketing at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Called the “Annual Reminder,” this yearly gathering was designed to inform people of the bigoted and unjust treatment that the homosexual community was forced to endure. The last Annual Reminder was held on July 4, 1969. After the Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969, the Annual Reminder organizers discontinued their picketing at Independence Hall and, instead, organized the Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

 The Stonewall Riots

Stonewall in 1969.jpg

The infamous Stonewall Riots of 1969. Sure, you’ve heard of them (or at least you should have by now). But what actually happened there and what does it mean for Pride today? A police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village was the flashpoint that transformed the Gay Rights Movement from a quiet series of localized gatherings into a global fight for equality.

In 1969, tensions between the New York police department and the gay residents of Greenwich Village were growing exponentially. In the early morning hours of June 28, those tensions erupted into violent street riots outside of the Stonewall Inn that continued until 4:00AM and re-started the following night. Many eye witnesses and participants in the riots assert that there was no pre-existing organization or apparent cause for the violent demonstration; rather, what ensued was spontaneous. One participant in the riots, Michael Fader, explained:

We all had a collective feeling like we'd had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn't anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration... Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us.... All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren't going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it's like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that's what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we're going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren't going to go away. And we didn't!

After the Stonewall Riots, members of the gay and lesbian community overcame many differences to form a community set on bringing about real change—to have people accept their sexuality without fear of being arrested. Within months of the Stonewall Riots, several gay rights activist organizations were formed in New York. The following year, many more organizations were formed across the country and around the world. On June 28, 1970 organizers formed the Christopher Street Liberation Day in New York and the Christopher Street West Association in Los Angeles. The first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots saw the first Gay Pride Parades in history in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angles. To accommodate the interests of the many different groups participating, the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee named the days leading up to the parade, Gay Pride Week.

Beyond Stonewall

Today, Pride festivals are held annually throughout the world, usually towards the end of June, to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In June of 1999, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated 51 and 53 Christopher Street (where the Stonewall Inn is located) and the surrounding streets as a National Historic Landmark. In a dedication ceremony, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior, John Berry stated,

Let it forever be remembered that here—on this spot—men and women stood proud, they stood fast, so that we may be who we are, we may work where we will, live where we choose and love whom our hearts desire.

On June 23, 2015, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the designation of the Stonewall Inn as a city landmark, making it the first landmark honored for its role in the fight for gay rights.

As we gear up for Pride events across Virginia and DC in 2016, it’s important to look back at the history of the Gay Rights Movement and understand why we celebrate Pride. It’s particularly important to look back and remember how far the LGBTQ community has come in such a short period of time. However you choose to celebrate Pride this year, be sure to take a moment to remember why we celebrate Pride. If it weren’t for some bad-ass gay men, lesbians and drag queens who violently clashed with police in the streets of Greenwich Village in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, there would be no Pride celebrations at all. Thanks to those brave souls who fought for civil rights in the streets of New York 47 years ago and those who carried on the fight in the years that followed, we can all savor the fruits of equality. Now that is a reason to celebrate! Happy Pride, everyone!

 

Photo Credits

Old Stonewall Photo

The Stonewall Inn, taken September 1969. The sign in the window reads: "We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village—Mattachine."

 

Credit:

Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Layout of the Stonewall Inn, 1969

Layout of the Stonewall Inn, 1969

Credit:

Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Riot Photo

This photograph appeared in the front page of The New York Daily News on Sunday, June 29, 1969, showing the "street kids" who were the first to fight with the police.

Credit:

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18998998

 

Christopher Park Photo

Christopher Park, where many of the demonstrators met after the first night of rioting to talk about what had happened, now features a sculpture of four white figures by George Segal that commemorates the milestone.

Credit:

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1578326

Current Stonewall Photo

The Stonewall, a bar in part of the building where the Stonewall Inn was located. The building and the surrounding streets have been declared a National Historic Landmark.

Credit

By Gryffindor - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10512442

 

NYC Pride March

NYC Pride March 2014.

Credit

Courtesy of nycpride.org.