In 1969, the gay rights movement came into prominence, warring with events such as the later moon landing for attention in the public eye. While there had been an ongoing struggle against prejudice and discrimination in previous decades, one June night lit the fuse and blew away years of complacent attempts at conformity and concealment.
June 28, 1969
Early in the morning on June 28th, police raided a known gay bar in Manhattan called the Stonewall Inn. Historical records vary, but it’s believed that the raid itself had legitimate grounds—the Inn was thought to have been selling liquor without a license—which were used to silence the protests when staff and patrons were being lined up for questioning. Eye-witness reports mentioned a ‘tangible feeling of tension’ in the air, so when one individual threw shoes at the police, it was the spark on the tinder.
What was truly remarkable about the riots in Greenwich nearly fifty years ago was the fact that all of those rioting were not just gay, nor were they just transgender or lesbians. The entire community, heterosexuals included, spoke out in protest over what had happened at the Stonewall Inn. The rioting went on for nearly four days after that particular Saturday, and once the dust had settled, it was clear that the gay community would be silent no longer.
Why Celebrate Violence?
Selecting June as the LGBT Pride Month has nothing to do with the violence that riots involve, but the fact that it was the dramatic turning point in the gay rights movement. It was, in fact, the beginning of the movement as it is known now. Prior to the Stonewall Riots, there was a subtle and often overlooked shift as gay, lesbian and transgendered people gathered together for support but could not come out publicly for fear of losing their employment or even their lives.
June 28, 1969 was the day of transformation from ‘silently enduring’ to ‘actively speaking’ about the problem of discrimination and oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals. It created a group of people who were willing to fight for their rights rather than mutely hope for the best.