Today marks the 43rd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which took place on June 28, 1969. That night a usually unremarkable event happened in New York’s Greenwich Village: the police raided a gay bar, something that occurred many times before across the US over the decades. This time, shortly after 3 a.m., at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in NYC’s Greenwich Village, the largely gay and lesbian clientele fought back with aggressive retaliation. Until then, raids on gay bars were commonplace as neighbors objected to patrons of gay bars participating in sexual acts considered deviant and unacceptable. The police raided the Stonewall Inn for serving liquor without a license among other violations. As the raid progressed, the crowd on the street watched as the police arrested the bar’s employees. When three drag queens and a lesbian were forced into a paddy wagon, the crowd reacted.
Ejected customers started to throw coins at the officers, in mockery of the notorious system of payoffs – dubbed “gayola” – in which police took huge sums from gay bars, using “public morals” raids to carry out the scheme. Soon coins were followed by bottles, rocks, and other items. Cheers ran out as the prisoners in the van were liberated. Officers had to take shelter inside the bar. Two policemen were slightly injured before reinforcements arrived to disperse the mob. The protest spilled over into the neighboring streets and order was not restored until the arrival of New York’s Tactical Patrol Force (TPF), a crack riot-control squad specially trained to disperse people protesting against the Vietnam War. To this day, the Stonewall Riots are viewed as the birth of the LGBTQ rights movement. The riot lasted for the next six days of demonstrations in New York and was the impetus for the formation of the Gay Liberation Front as well as other gay, lesbian, and bisexual civil rights organizations. It is also regarded by many as history’s first major protest on behalf of equal rights for homosexuals.
The Brooklyn Law School Library recently acquired the DVD Stonewall Uprising (Call #HQ76.8.U6 S76 2011) available in the library’s AV collection. Filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner explore the event that launched a worldwide rights movement. The film revisits a time when homosexual acts were illegal throughout America, and homosexuality itself was seen as a form of mental illness. Hunted and often entrapped by undercover police in their hometowns, gays from around the US fled to New York for sanctuary. Hounded there still by an aggressive police force, they found refuge in a Mafia-run gay bar in Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn.
Details about the event is shown in a video, Tim Robbins reads Martin Duberman, “Stonewall”, with excerpts from Martin Duberman’s 1994 book.