Stonewall Riots

We all felt it at the same time – that’s enough! No one had planned in advance. It just happened that after so many years of humiliation, all of us that were there could not stand it anymore. This was not an organized protest… All of us felt that there was no way back anymore… It was the last drop… Different people had gathered there, but we all had one thing in common: we no longer wanted to accept the violence from the police. We tried to get our freedom back. We were asking for freedom and we did not want to hide in the darkness of the night anymore. The spirit of freedom was swirling in the air and we felt we had to fight for freedom. We were not going to back down.”

New York. Manhattan. Bohemian Greenwich Village. Christopher Street 51-53 …

Here, in the old stables, in the early 1960s, there was one ordinary restaurant until a fire broke out. A bar was opened in the building after the fire. The bar is said to have belonged to the Genovese family. Homosexual relationships were strictly forbidden in that era. There were almost no gay bars. Even in normal bars the police would sometimes go in to check things out. This is an era in which you could be arrested even for simply dancing with a person of your own sex. There was also a law passed in the 19th century that required the wearing of three sex-appropriate garments.

From a business standpoint, a gay bar would have been a very profitable activity in the absence of other such bars. People of homosexual orientation, and not only, would bring a decent profit for this type of business. Probably this calculation was made by one of New York City’s most influential clans (given the clan’s close ties to the police, the government, as well as the general corrupt environment) when it invested a staggering $ 3500 in 51-53 Christopher Street.

That’s how Stonewall was born…

On Friday nights gays, lesbians, transgenders, cross-dressers, homeless sex workers of street 42 gathered at 51-53 Christopher street. In short, people of all skin colors and sexual orientations and social backgrounds danced and united for the whole night.

Entrance into the bar cost 3 dollars and there was a face control through the door peephole. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, suspicious people and strangers were not allowed to enter the bar.

The police usually carried out planned detours to the bars once a month. For a long time, the detours at Stonewall were just a formality. The police would be handed a “proper” envelope, politely check identity cards of some “suspicious” guests, and leave without any problem.

Meanwhile the bar did not even have a license to sell alcoholic beverages.

The bar windows were lined with plywood from the inside. The interior was painted black. There were two faint twinkling lights on the dance floors that barely lit up. Just before the police arrival, the ramps would suddenly turn on. It was a sign – bartenders would hide the drinks, couples would exchange partners, cross-dressers and drag queens would remove make-up.

This continued for a while.

. . .

At around 1:30 a.m. on June 28, 1969, police raided a bar without warning. Later, as it turned out, before the police raid, four disguised police officers were already there, observing the “immoral behavior” of the guests. Some say there were 200 people in the bar that night. It was late when the ramps lit up – police had already occupied strategic points. It was impossible to escape from the bar. Several people tried to escape through the toilet window, but the police had blocked that way as well.

Police took all of the illegal alcohol outside. As in the previous detours, the police lined the people up in the bar and demanded them to show their documents. Everything was going the same way as at other times – those who had IDs were allowed to go home, and the rest were to be taken to the police station.

But this time those who had the documents in order did not go home, they stayed in front of the bar!

Crossdressers and drag queens refused to submit their IDs!

Police were confused and called for backup.

The visitors of the bar that were outside were joined by curious neighbors.

Meanwhile, the word about the incident spread across Manhattan and more than 1500 people gathered in front of the bar. Among them were those who had not yet arrived at the bar at the time.

The policemen first pulled the bar staff out and started shoving them into a police van with force.

At this time outside, someone in the assembly screamed:

“Gay power!”

“We Shall Overcome”

. . .

No one knows when exactly the fight started.

According to some, a famous Latin American transgender woman, Sylvia Rivera, threw a bottle or a glass at a police officer!

Others say that when the police were dragging a lesbian girl, whose name is still unknown, to a van, she shouted, “People, why aren’t you doing anything?”

And then it started …

One group of protesters overturned a police van, while others threw whatever they could get their hands on at the police. Some threw coins at them and shouted, “Take it you pigs!”

About a dozen policemen retreated and tried to fortify themselves in the bar. There were also several detainees with them, including the famous folk artist, heterosexual Dave Van Ronk, who was walking down the street for himself, was stopped by police, dragged into a bar and beaten.

Garbage bins, stones, bricks were thrown in the direction of the bar, even Molotov cocktails were thrown. One group smashed a glass door with a pole and dragged police officers out.

The police tried to disperse the group with a water cannon, but due to the fact that there was no water wiring at Stonewall (the cups in the bar were washed in barrels), instead of cannon, a few drops of water came out, this made everyone laugh.

An auxiliary support detachment was called by the police, the so-called Tactical Patrol Group, which specializes in dispersing protesters, which exacerbated the situation. Too many people had gathered in front of the bar and no one was going to retreat. Many police officers saved themselves by escaping. Things calmed down only at about four in the morning.

By sunrise everything went silent, but the tension was still there. During the day many people, including those who had been there the night before, as well as curious and tourists, went to see the burnt gay bar. Graffiti appeared on the walls of the bar: “Legalization of gay bars”, “Support gay power”, “They invaded our rights” … Thousands of people gathered on the streets. Roads were blocked. Up to 100 police officers tried to restore order. Famous Marsha Johnson climbed a light pole and threw her heavy handbag at a police car and shattered the windshield. Garbage containers were burning again and stones, bricks, iron scraps were flying in the direction of the police…

It was already clear to everyone that it was no longer the way it used to be – people who had been abused, humiliated, beaten, imprisoned for years were able to defend their rights!

The old and established homophobic attitudes of the police and the government could not continue anymore.

It became clear that the policies of the pre-existing community organizations, which mainly provided educational assistance to the community and psychological assistance to community members, were completely ineffective and inadequate.

When one of the old activists called on them to be “friendly and peaceful” and to protest with lit candles, the people shouted: Damn your peace! This is exactly what the society expects! Don’t you think that gays can riot too?!

Despite the different attitudes within the community, the Rubicon was crossed.

New organizations were formed: to protect the rights of gays, lesbians, transgender people, cross-dressers and others! No one was going to hide anymore!

On June 28, 1970, on one-year anniversary of Stonewall events, the first Pride Parade was held in Greenwich Village – the Christopher Street Liberation Day! Although City Hall issued the permit two hours before the march and some members of the public objected to the march, the marchers filled Christopher Street fully.

Marches were also held in Chicago and Los Angeles.

The following year Pride parades were also held in Dallas, Boston, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm.

“This day, in its meaning, can be compared to the day of the capture of the Bastille!” – Michael Fader.


Author – V.F.

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