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LGBT History Part III: Stonewall Riots

It has been nearly 48 years since the early morning police raid at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The Stonewall Riots are widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the start of the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.

In the 1950s & 60s, very few establishments were openly welcome to the LGBTQ+ community. Stonewall Inn, a mafia owned establishment, was one of the few places that catered to the

most marginalized people within the LGBTQ+ community. During this time, police raids on gay bars were quite common. Raids often occurred early in the night and bar managers were often tipped off about a raid beforehand and were quickly able to reopen afterwards. During these raids, all the lights were turned on and bar patrons were forced to line up and have their identification checked. Patrons who were dressed in women’s clothes were taken to the bathroom by female police officers to verify their sex. If any men were dressed in women’s clothes they would be arrested.

The raid at Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, however, did not go as planned. Patrons who were dressed as women refused to go with police and men began to refuse to produce identification. Police officers decided to take everyone to the police station after they had

separated the men in women’s clothing from those who were not in women’s clothing. Police began to assault some of the lesbians by touching them inappropriately while frisking them. The Police seized the beer and hard liquor and were suppose to transport it in a patrol wagon, but because it had not arrived, bar patrons were required to wait in a line. Some people were not arrested and were released. Instead of leaving the area as they usually would, they waited outside. A crowd began to form within just minutes. The people, who had grown angry at the harassment by police, took a stand and the famous riot broke out. As word spread throughout the city about the demonstration, the customers of the inn were soon joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting "gay power!"

Police reinforcements arrived and beat the crowd away, but the next night, the crowd returned, even larger than the night before, with numbers reaching over 1000. For hours, protesters rioted outside the Stonewall Inn until the police sent a riot-control squad to disperse the crowd. For days following, demonstrations of varying intensity took place throughout the city.

The aftermath of the riots the LGBT community in New York began intense discussions about civil rights. The discussions led to the formation of advocacy groups such as the Gay

Liberation Front. This group was the first group to include the term “gay” in its name. On the one year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, people assembled on Christopher Street for "Christopher Street Liberation Day." People in Los Angeles and Chicago held simultaneous Gay Pride marches, marking the first Gay Pride marches in U.S. history. The next year, Gay Pride marches took place in Boston, Milwaukee, Dallas, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm.


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