“In the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City.” a quote from the article Stonewall Riots on History.com. This year marks the 50th anniversary of those very riots and Pride in the CLE will be honoring the event with a return to the march. Sure, many will just see it as a Pride Parade and not understand the difference, but it is that difference that makes it important, especially now. You may know the story or just parts, but this is the year to revisit our roots and understand where it all started and why the fight is not over. And why our “gay bars” were and still are important cornerstones of the community.
The Stonewall Riot was a culmination of events that erupted in the early morning hours of June 28th. Since the Great Depression, bars in America had become less and less welcoming to the LGBT populations. Laws were put in place in many states that made it illegal for bars to serve LGBT people. The laws included means of being able to identify who were the subversive element, they included that you must wear at least three pieces of clothing to the gender you appeared to be, could not over fraternize with other same sex patrons, and in many cases dance together. In the Christopher Street part to New York City, the bars had been raided for almost a decade. Anyone that looked as if they were a homosexual were dragged out of the bar, beaten, thrown in the back of police wagons, and hauled to jail. There were bars that had popped up to allow LGBT people to visit and be able to drink, they were never the cleanest bars, and many did not have working bathrooms or running water. They were simply dark places that allowed for the congregation of our community without intercedence of local authorities.
Stonewall was ran by the Genovese crime family in New York and had paid informants in the sixth precinct to all them to know ahead of time if there were raids coming for the bar. This allowed the owners to hide the alcohol being served, ensure that the men were not dancing together, and stop any other illegal activities. On the morning of June 28th, the tip off did not happen and the local precinct showed up with a warrant in hand and in full force, to raid the bar. The police entered, beat many of the patrons, arrested 13 people, including staff, and any that did not comply to the three-garment dress code. If they suspected someone of being a “crossdresser,” they would take them into the restroom and perform a physical check of their gender. One lesbian patron was hit over the head with a beer bottle by an arresting officer, at which point she tried to incite the crowd into action, asking if they were going to stand and allow this to happen. At which point, in a massive wave, the crowd erupted and started throwing objects at the police, yelling at them, and beginning to circle the arresting officers. Within minutes, it was a full-blown riot. The protests escalated and lasted for almost six days in total. The first ever targeted and focused push for equal treatment of LGBT people and became the single galvanizing moment that pushed gay rights into the modern era.
Both sides of our country had similar marches, annually, afterwards. Harvey Milk set up a Pride Parade in the Castro district of San Francisco and the Christopher Street March was held in honor of the events that happened. These marches put some of our biggest activist like Marsha P. Johnson and Cleve Jones in the spotlight and they were also the catalyst for our achievements going forward. Putting us front and center in the eyes of the media with banners like “We’re here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It.” As the movement progressed and victories were won, our marches slowly became the Pride Parades that now blanket our country. Starting on June 1, as the beginning of Pride Season, and ending in September. During these times, our bars where the places of organization of these events, a place for us to feel safe from the persecution we endure constantly, and our safe zones after we won them back from constant police intervention. They were, in fact, our homes and our family.
In the fifty years since Stonewall we have seen a lot of advancement in LGBTQ rights and equality. We have seen larger focus on healthcare targeted towards us, inclusion of our spouses in our company provided healthcare, and numerous reforms of laws that prevent us from being fired or losing our homes for just being who we are. That being said, the last four years has shown a lot of ground slipping. This administration has now made it legal for the military to openly discriminate against trans people. We are seeing legislature change for the safety of our jobs and healthcare, that would allow companies to persecute against us based on perceived religious freedoms. Hate crimes are rising to levels that we haven’t seen in several decades. And most recently, same sex couples are being targeted more for trying to adopt babies outside of the country, the government is stating they cannot bring a child in unless going through more hoops of proof of marriage than our heterosexual counterparts.
We have been told by organizations that claim to have our best interests in mind that we needed to fight for marriage rights, instead of women’s rights, minority rights, prison reform, healthcare reform and numerous others. We were convinced that marriage should be first, and the rest would fall in line. This administration shows they have no regards for that fight or even the law that repealed DOMA and allowed us to legally marry. What did we gain from it but the ability to wave around a piece of paper that says we are legally married to our partner? The benefits that should come with that paper seem to have been misplaced in the information given to us when we got our licenses. We are slowly starting to realize that our fight never ended, we were only shifted off the mark. We are also learning that it is “WE” who must fight for our rights, again. It is great to have supporters and advocates, but at the end of the day we are the ones still losing in this battle. We are again burying our brothers and sisters for the murders spurred from hate crimes.
This year, Pride in the CLE will be hosting a march, this is the time for each and every one of us to come out of the closet, yet again, and take to the streets. Be visible and show that we are still here and fighting for our very futures. We will not be forgotten, and we will not be torn asunder. This is the time to make your banners and hoist them up alongside our community, whether you are marching or standing on the route in solidarity. It cannot be expressed enough that your voice does matter and needs to be heard. If you choose to march, visit the links above and register. Let us make an example so that we do not lose more of the rights we have fought for. June 1st join us to stand together to honor the memories of those visionary activist and not let their fights be in vain.