In the early hours of June 28th, 1969 a hodge-podge of students, drag queens, homeless youth, businessmen, and hustlers violently protested a police raid on a dive bar called the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Forty four years later, why should you care? Because they helped create American equality.
Imagine for a moment your name is on a FBI list along with suspected communists, anarchists and others they consider un-American. Government agents follow you and keep track of your movement and note any associations you have in the community including your friends and family, then report those associations to local governments who then sweep neighborhoods to kick you out of your home and shut down bars and businesses where you visit. The US Post office keeps a list of any material pertaining to homosexuality that is mailed to you and these lists, along with the FBI lists, are used to deny you government employment and kick you out of the military.
Even though you have committed no crimes, you are constantly on the run, constantly harassed, constantly denied equal access. Does this sound like a democracy? Does this sound like the American dream of our fore-fathers?
What if this was your daughter, son, uncle or dad? The government was literally breaking apart American families.
This estrangement and persecution was the reality everyone at the Stonewall Inn faced that summer night. When police officers forced them to line up for inspection, first they refused to switch over to “gender-appropriate” clothing, which was New York law. Then they whistled and commented as the police began to make arrests. Then, when the paddy wagon door opened, a group of drag queens threw pennies, compacts, hair brushes – anything they could find, while stones and bricks pelted officers from a growingly hostile group. Police backup was called. Tactical officers moved in. Soon there was a full-blown riot.
These Stonewall Riots lasted for three nights and signified a crucial change. For the past twenty years, gay groups like the Mattachine society preached peaceful integration of gays into society with non-violent protest. The Stonewall Riots were the first time gays fought back violently. Within six months, gay activist organizations were born, gay magazines and newspapers were started followed by Gay Books chronicling the events. Within a few years, the model was copied around the world, leading to gay pride parades in almost every major world city.
You should care because before Stonewall, our government actively worked to identify and persecute what they considered second class citizens. The participants of the Stonewall riots made this reality very visible and even though most Americans didn’t like gays, they didn’t like an out of control government either. The gay rights movement coincided with the civil rights movement, followed by a second wave of the women’s rights movement, then rights for those with disabilities. One by one, each group made its mark and the government learned its lesson – it’s there to protect civil liberties, not take them away.
The US government was headed down a very dark road and our reality could be much different today if it weren’t for the Stonewall Riots and other protests like it. So, when you take a moment to be thankful for your freedom, don’t forget to include homosexuals in your thoughts.
To read a gripping love story complicated by murderous karma during the Stonewall Riots, please buy The Ghosts of Stonewall, by Alderin Ordell. Learn more at www.ghostsofstonewall.com
The Stonewall Riots: The Birth of Gay Rights Movement