Fifty-three years ago yesterday, police in New York City raided a bar in Greenwich Village well known for serving LBGTQ+ patrons. As noted by the Library of Congress’s Today in History entry for Stonewall, “[in New York state,] it was illegal to serve alcohol to a gay person until 1966, and in 1969, homosexuality was still considered a criminal offense. This led many gay establishments to operate sans liquor license, providing an open door for raids and police brutality.” It was not the first time police had harassed patrons at the Stonewall Inn—police routinely raided the bar; sometimes they would make arrests or they’d simply turn up to intimidate people and demand pay-offs in return for not publicly releasing patron names or giving out code violation citations.
This particular raid would make an indelible mark in history.
Rather than leaving as they were dismissed, patrons and locals from the neighborhood angrily stood outside. And as the police arrested thirteen of the staff and customers, the crowd became incensed at the rough treatment. They’d had enough. They pelted the police with pennies and debris, and minutes later hundreds of people began rioting.
That night sparked five more days of rioting, involving thousands of people and it became a pivotal event for LBGTQ+ people, an inspiration to stand up and demand equal rights. In 2016, the Stonewall Inn and close surroundings were designated a National Monument, the first such monument commemorating the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
As we conclude Pride Month, we celebrate those in the LBGTQ+ community who rose up, that night and in the many decades afterward, to be heard and be seen.
It is more important than ever to remember the significant contributions of LGBTQ+ people of color as we struggle as a nation with racist terrorist attacks on communities of color and a wave of transphobic legislation across the country. In 2020 the President and CEO of GLADD Sarah Kate Ellis made the following statement which is just as relevant today as it was two years ago “It is important to remember that the revolutionary riots at Stonewall in 1969 were spearheaded by many LGBTQ people of color, and that none of the progress made for the acceptance and equality of LGBTQ people over the past 51 years would be possible if not for the action and courage of those protestors. … There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional.’”
If you want to learn more about the Stonewall Uprising, delve into the many resources that Falvey Memorial Library has to offer.
If you want to catch up on Falvey’s Pride Month coverage, check out our additional Pride Month coverage:
- Falvey Library Celebrates Pride Month
- Bess Rowen, PhD, To Teach Inaugural Introduction to LGBTQ Studies Course
Shawn Proctor, MFA, is communications and marketing program manager at Falvey Memorial Library.