Breaking Barriers: The Stonewall Rebellion

Hundreds of laws in the United States have kept gays oppressed, and despite the efforts to dismantle these homophobic rules, the country for centuries has not welcomed those in the LGBT community. New York, in particular, has always maintained a notorious reputation for allowing discrimination and laws against gays.

“The 1960s were dark ages for lesbians and gay men all over America," William Eskridge, Professor of Law at Yale Law School said in an interview, " The overwhelming number of medical authorities said that homosexuality was a mental defect, maybe even a form of psychopathy."

Gay men in America faced ostracism and, on a wider scale, social disapproval. Cooper’s Do-Nuts Riot (1959), Dewey’s Restaurant Sit-in (1965), Compton’s Cafeteria Riot (1966), Mattachine Society Sip-in (1966), Black Cat Tavern Riot (1967), all of these protests had the goal of spreading awareness on the mistreatment of gays, but couldn’t quite eliminate the systemic homophobism that has dwelled in the roots of America.

By the late 1960's, the LGBT* community had grown tired of being targeted by the police department for alcohol consumption. They had grown tired of being arrested for simply touching a person of the same-sex, along with cross-dressing. They had grown tired of living in a society where homosexuality wasn’t legal, and to some, was considered mental illness. It was time to come out of the Dark Ages. They took affirmative action and opened the Stonewall Inn in 1967, a club that openly served the gay, lesbian, and transgender community of Greenwich Village, New York.

Stonewall Inn was more than just a bar. As American LGBT rights activist Dick Leitsch put it: "gay bars were the social centers of gay life. Gay bars were to gay people what churches were to blacks in the South."

The Stonewall Inn not only compensated for the hundreds of bars that excluded gays from being served alcohol, but it was one of the only bars that allowed dancing. Since raids on these types of facilities were so frequent, the owners of the Inn had to make monthly payments to their local police to avoid being targeted. But it wasn't enough. On the night of June 28, 1969, the police attempted to raid its premises.

Police raids on gay bars were common, but this time, gay people fought back. The NYPD’s raid on the Stonewall Inn resulted in a six-day long riot, and the event received national media coverage. This uprising ultimately achieved what others could not: real and lasting change.

The Village Voice reporter Lucian Truscott summed up the impact: "This was the Rosa Parks moment, the time that gay people stood up and said no. And once that happened, the whole house of cards that was the system of oppression of gay people started to crumble."

The Stonewall Rebellion did not start the Gay Right’s Movement. As early as 1924, there were protests filled with driven, compelled activists working to eliminate laws against gays. But Stonewall invigorated the movement.

Because of the Stonewall riots, a new era was born. Stonewall was a symbol of resistance to both social and political discrimination, and inspired a wave of homosexual groups. In July 1969, just weeks after the riots, the Gay Liberation Front was officially formed in New York City. Other groups inspired by Stonewall include the Human Rights Campaign, founded in 1980, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) founded in 1985.

The legacy of Stonewall still holds significant value in our current world. The LGBTQ community and its allies still come together on the anniversary of the riots to celebrate. Former President Barack Obama appointed the site of the uprising a national monument in 2016.

"They were heroes. They really just sparked the entire movement for LGBTQ equality," said transgender teen and activist Jazz Jennings. "They really paved the way for all of these future parades that occur nowadays. It's become a staple of the LGBTQ community."

This was Stonewall. This was the outcome. This is its legacy. This is the Gay Rights Movement.

*LGBT - Standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender - was used until 1996 when The Q - queer - was added to the acronym.