History of the Stonewall Inn
In the mid-1960s, the Genovese crime family owned most of the gay bars in Greenwich Village, NYC. In 1966, they purchased the Stonewall Inn (a “straight” bar and restaurant at the time), renovated it, and reopened it the next year as a gay bar.
Stonewall Inn was registered as a type of private “bottle bar,” which did not require a liquor license because patrons were supposed to bring their own liquor #BYOB. Patrons had to sign their names in a book when entering the club. The Genovese crime family was infamous for bribing NYPD to ignore activities occurring within the club. The club welcomed drag queens, it was a night home for LGBT runaways and homeless youth, and allowed dancing (which was not common for gay bars at the time).
Nonetheless, getting raided by the police was per the usual. Corrupt cops who were bribed would normally tip off the Mafia owned bars and clubs, which allowed them time to stash alcohol being sold without a liquor license and hide or remove any other illegal activities. But the night/early morning of the Stonewall Uprising was something completely unexpected.
How the Uprising Began
The Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City.
Police came with a warrant, manhandled patrons, found bootlegged alcohol, and arrested 13 people, including employees and people violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute; it is said that female officers would take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom to check their sex. Angry patrons and neighborhood residents were sick of the continuous police harassment and social discrimination, so instead of dispersing and going home, they hung around outside of the bar.
As the events of the night unfolded, people were being aggressively manhandled by the police, including a butch lesbian who was hit over the head as an officer forced her into the police van— she put up a fight against the officer, shouting to onlookers to act; the crowd began throwing bottles, cobble stones and other objects they could find on the sidewalks. Within minutes, a full-blown riot involving 400+ people began. The police, a few prisoners and a Village Voice writer barricaded themselves in the bar, which the mob attempted to set on fire.
What became to be known as “the Stonewall Uprising” continued for six days outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in Christopher Park. The Stonewall Uprising served as a catalyst for the gay liberation movement in the United States.
On the anniversary of the riots on June 28, 1970, thousands of people marched in the streets of Manhattan from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park in what was called “Christopher Street Liberation Day,” America’s first gay pride parade. The parade’s official chant was: “Say it loud, gay is proud”
Gay Rights Before Stonewall
- Society for Human Rights: an American LGBT Rights organization established in Chicago, Illinois (1924). Society founder Henry Gerber was inspired to create it by the work of German doctor Magnus Hirschfeld and the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.
- Mattachine Society: founded in 1950, was one of the earliest LGBT organizations in the United States. Communist and labor activist Harry Hay formed the group with a collection of male friends in Los Angeles to protect and improve the rights of gay men.
- Daughters of Bilitis: The Daughters of Bilitis, also called the DOB or the Daughters, was the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States. The organization was formed in San Francisco, California (1955) by Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, a lesbian couple who were known as feminist and gay-rights advocates. DOB was conceived as a social alternative to lesbian bars, which were subject to raids and police harassment (a safe space).
- The “Sip In” at Julius’ in NYC: On April 21, 1966, a “Sip-In” was organized by members of the Mattachine Society to challenge the State Liquor Authority’s discriminatory policy of revoking the licenses of bars that served gay men and lesbians. This was the first step forward in the development of legitimate LGBT bars in New York City.
The Legacy of Stonewall
- Gay Liberation Front: In July 1969, the first LGBT activist organization formed was the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). This organization used Alternate U., a free counterculture school and leftist political organizing center in Greenwich Village, for many of its activities through 1970. The building was demolished in 2019, becoming a lost LGBT historic site.
- National LGBTQ Task Force: Founded in 1973 by Bruce Voeller, this American social justice advocacy non-profit organization represents the grassroots power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.
- Human Rights Campaign: the largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States, founded in 1980 by Steve Endean.
- Stonewall National Monument: In 2016, 44th President Barack Obama designated the site of the riots—Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park, and the surrounding streets and sidewalks—a national monument in recognition of the area’s contribution to gay rights.
- The addition of Marsha P. Johnson Park: an 11-acre state park in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The park stretches along the East River and features an education center, history walk, festival art plaza and pride flag mural with Marsha P. Johnson’s portrait at the end.