These days it seems like history of sex is always happening in real time. This week, we witnessed yet another key moment in this history. On Monday, in a fierce reaction to the horrific shooting at Pulse Nightclub, Obama officially declared 7.7 acres of New York’s Greenwich Village as the Stonewall National Monument. This is the first memorial named for the gay-rights movement of America and is (hopefully) a significant step towards a nationwide acceptance of the marginalized LGBTQ community.
For those of you born post-1985 (ahem, millennials) you may be shocked to hear about the harshly homophobic laws in place in New York in the 1950s & 60s. At the time, it was illegal to serve alcohol to anyone who was openly gay and/or transgendered so LGBTQ New Yorkers had to find inclusive and secretive places to drink and party.
The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in the bohemian Greenwich Village was run by the mafia and in 1966 it became an (unofficial) gay bar. The clientele was 98% men: gay men, drag queens and sometimes homeless youth. Basically any members of the LGTBQ community who could not easily blend into regular NY society. As you can imagine this led to quite an outspoken and unapologetic group of patrons.
In those days, New York police were notoriously raiding different bars around town and arresting patrons, owners and staff. Police and politicians would often go so far as to have the names and photos of those arrested printed in the newspaper, outing them for all to see. Any man in a dress without the genitalia to match would be arrested and if a female patron was not wearing three articles of “women’s” clothing, she would be arrested too. Police back then did not have iPhone cameras filming them so I don’t even want to imagine how rough they were on duty.
The mafia owners of the Stonewall Inn paid off the police to avoid interference in their business and therefore were usually warned if a raid was coming. However, on June 28th 1969 (47 years ago this week!!) police conducted an impromptu raid on the Stonewall Inn and things did not go as planned. The patrons bravely fought back against the police, numerous arrests were made, people got hurt, and riots ensued. Almost all of this action was happening out in public, on the streets of New York, for all to see.
This event sparked protests that began the very next night on Christopher Street, with people chanting “Drag Power!” “Legalize Gay Bars!”. This trend quickly raised awareness of the discrimination faced every day by the LGBTQ community. Following in the footsteps of civil rights and the women’s liberation movement, the gays of New York finally found their voice and inspired the entire country to stand up for themselves.
A year later on June 28th 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first Gay Pride parades were held in New York, LA and Chicago. The next year they spread to Boston, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. Today all over the world Gay Pride parades are held around this time of year because of these awful events at the Stonewall Inn, a true monument to the history of Gay Pride.