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Stonewall: Freedom Overdue.
Written by TabooJive

Have you ever marched in a Gay Pride Parade?  Do you know why you were able to?

On June 28, 1969 the Stonewall Riots took place at the Stonewall Inn at 51 Christopher Street in New York City, sparking a civil rights movement for LGBT community in the United States.  For you young folk out there, let?s look at what you could expect in America at this time, and why the anger was boiling just below the surface for so many LGBT people in the US:

Forty-five years ago here is what you could expect as an LGBT person in the United States :

  • Your name (along with all of your friends and family members) would be put on a list by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, because as a homosexual you were ?prone? to blackmail and "overt acts of perversion"
  • The United States Post Office also kept your name on a list to monitor any homosexual "paraphernalia" you were receiving so they could tip off the police and have you arrested
  • You would be dishonorably discharged from the military, fired from your government job or job as a teacher or professor at a college if you were suspected of being gay with no legal recourse
  • Your neighborhood would be "swept" periodically to arrest you and anyone else who was a presumed homosexual or wore clothes not "for" their gender
  • The American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a sociopath personality disturbance and you were considered mentally infirm (this did not change until 1973).
  • You could be arrested for holding hands in public with your partner

There were no legal places where LGBT people could get together either so organized crime stepped in and opened the few gay bars that existed in New York City. A gay bar could expect to be raided at least once a month, no matter what ?payoff? they gave to the NYPD.  The Stonewall Inn was one of those bars.  Owned by the Genovese crime family who turned it into a gay bar in 1963, it had no running water (the glasses were dunked into standing tubs of water) lacked proper toilets and was one of the only places in New York City you could go dance, with a light "cue" on the dance floor that turned on when the police showed up to inform patrons to stop dancing and touching.  It is no surprise that in this tense, repressed, bigoted atmosphere that something was going to give.

In the wee hot hours of June 28, 1969 the police did a typical, routine raid on Stonewall Inn, but the night did not end as they expected.  Fed up with being bullied, harassed and otherwise pushed around and denied the basic freedoms everyone else had, something snapped for the men and women at Stonewall.  Those lined up along the walls inside of Stonewall refused to show their ID or identify their gender.  Those who were not arrested went outside the bar and did not leave.  Instead they hung around and soon the crowd grew to ten times it's size and very quiet. 

An unidentified lesbian was brought out after being hit in the head with a billy club for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight, she shouted to the crowd, "Do something!" and the crowd did, pelting the officers with bottles, pennies and whatever else they could find and shouting phrases like "Gay power!" and singing "We shall Overcome."  The police immediately tried to disperse the crowd, calling in a Tactical Police Force, but the crowd grew larger as patrons from other nearby bars (straight and gay) joined in the fray.

The rioting lasted until around 4am.  By the time it was over the officer in charge of the raid, Inspector Pine, had his wanted result anyway, a burned and completely trashed Stonewall Inn.  What he did not expect was the outpouring of sympathy and empathy that came from New Yorkers toward the LGBT community in the days that followed.  For five days after the initial riot people gathered in Christopher Park to discuss plan, organize and demonstrate.  The Gay Liberation Front (GLF)  was  created as well as numerous publications, support groups, open LGBT dances and the birth of the first Gay Pride March in 1970.

To quote riot veteran and gay rights activist Craig Rodwell, now deceased:

"There was a very volatile active political feeling, especially among young people,when the night of the Stonewall Riots came along, everything came together at that one moment.  People often ask what was special about that night-there was no one thing special about it.  It was just everything coming together, one of those moments in history that is:  you were there, you know this is it, this is what we've been waiting for."

Unfortunately raids, homophobia and other bigoted laws did not magically cease after Stonewall, but it was the catalyst that helped get the LGBT civil rights movement going.  So as you petition, fight and educate in order to obtain the same rights afforded every other American in this country I urge you not to give up, change will come.  To straight allies I ask you to remember the words of the unknown lesbian who shouted to the crowd as she was being wrongfully arrested, "Do something!"  Don't stand idly by as someone uses a derogatory word, don't shrug and say the rights of another human being have nothing to do with you.  Stand together just like they did at Stonewall that fateful night in 1969.

For more on the history of the struggle for civil rights by the LGBT community please check out:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/stonewall/

http://www.onearchives.org/

http://www.glinn.com/news/lar1.htm

http://afterstonewall.com/press_bs.html

http://legacy.www.nypl.org/research/chss/1969/index.html

and your local LGBT archives -  don't have one in your town?  Start one!


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