Stonewall Rebellion: How it all began:


Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Celebrations have recently been seen all over the world, as a celebration of sexual diversity. It's worth remembering the history of Pride celebrations, of their origin in a homophobic and repressive culture, and their challenge to a world that refused to recognise sexual freedom. In this article, Paul McAndrew discusses the origins of Pride as a moment when the queer community in New York stood up and fought to be proud of their sexualities.The Stonewall riots were a series of violent conflicts between New York City police officers and groups of lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people that began during the early morning of June 28, 1969, and lasted several days. It was a watershed for the worldwide gay rights movement, because it was the first time queer people had forcibly resisted the police. At the time, gay bars were illegal, the only queer bars were underground and Mafia-run. Violent police raids were common. People got prosecuted even for cross-dressing.

Extract from the"The Village Voice, July 3, 1969
"Gay Power Comes to Sheridan Square: Sheridan Square this weekend looked like something from a William Burroughs novel as the sudden spectre of "gay power" erected its brazen head and spat out a fairy tale the likes of which the area has never seen.

“The forces of faggotry, spurred by a Friday night raid on one of the city's largest, most popular and longest lived gay bars, the Stonewall Inn, rallied Saturday night in an unprecedented protest against the raid and continued Sunday night to assert presence, possibility, and pride until the early hours of Monday morning. The result was a kind of liberation, as the gay brigade emerged from the bars, back rooms, and bedrooms of the village and became street people."

The police raided the Stonewall Inn for the second time in a week just before midnight on the Friday. As the patrons trapped inside were released one by one, a crowd started to gather on the street. Cheers would go up as favorites would emerge from the door, strike a pose, and swish by the detective.

When the paddywagon arrived the mood of the crowd changed. Three drag queens were loaded inside, along with the bartender and doorman, to a chorus of catcalls and boos from the crowd. People were shouting to push the paddywagon over, but it drove away before anything could happen.

A transgender woman, Sylvia Rivera threw a bottle at a police officer who had attacked her with his truncheon. The next person to come out was a dyke, and she put up a struggle - the scene became explosive. Beer cans and bottles were thrown at the windows, and coins were thrown at the police. One of the protestors was dragged inside the Stonewall by three of the police.

The crowd erupted into cobblestone and bottle heaving. An uprooted parking meter was used as a battering ram on the Stonewall door and a burning litter bin was thrown inside. The police inside turned a firehose on the crowd. 13 people were arrested and four police officers, as well as an undetermined number of protesters, were injured. It is known, however, that at least two rioters were severely beaten by the police.

On Saturday, the windows the Stonewall were boarded up and painted with queer liberation slogans like "We are Open," "Support Gay Power — C'mon in, girls." Hostile press coverage was also pinned to the boards. That night the crowds of protestors returned and were led in "gay power" cheers by a group of gay cheerleaders. "We are the Stonewall girls/ We wear our hair in curls/ We have no underwear/ We show our pubic hairs!". There was sustained hand-holding, kissing, and posing which had appeared only fleetingly on the street before.

Soon the crowd got restless. "Let's go down the street and see what's happening girls," someone yelled. They did and were confronted by the Tactical Patrol Force, (originally set up to stop anti-Vietnam war protests). However, the TPF failed to break up the crowd, who sprayed them with rocks and other projectiles. The third day of rioting fell five days after the raid on the Stonewall Inn. On that Wednesday, 1,000 people congregated at the bar and again took the cops on in the streets.

By the end of July, the radical, libertarian left-wing Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was formed in New York and by the end of the year the GLF could be seen in cities and universities around the US. It sought links with the Black Panthers, the Womens Liberation movement and anti-war organisations. Similar organisations were soon created around the world including Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

The following year, in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, the GLF organized a march from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Between 5,000 and 10,000 men and women attended the march.

Queer Pride celebrations began as commemorations of the Stonewall Riots.

This article is from Workers Solidarity 98, July/August 2007

PDF file of Workers Solidarity 98