Context: Criminalization of Gay Bars
The Stonewall Riots were a violent uprising in 1969 speaking out against police brutality following a raid of the Stonewall Inn.
The Stonewall Inn was a popular gay bar run by the Mafia in Greenwich Village of New York City. During the 1960s, however, same-sex relations were illegal in many places, including New York City. As such, the New York State Liquor Authority sanctioned frequent police raids of known gay bars, claiming that the gathering of homosexual individuals was “disorderly.” While these restrictions were overturned in 1966, police harassment of gay bars continued until much later, particularly as many operated without a liquor license due to their being owned by the Mafia.
The Stonewall Riots
On the morning of June 28th, 1969, rather than dispersing during the police raid that occurred, a violent crowd formed, and the Stonewall Riots began. The difference between this particular police raid and previous instances was that it came without warning and led to the NYPD roughly shoving both patrons and employees alike into police vehicles to be arrested. Starting with one woman shouting, “Why don’t you guys do something!” things quickly escalated as a crowd of hundreds formed, throwing bottles, pennies, and rocks at the police.
Although it is not known for sure, it is alleged that the first brick was thrown by Marsha P. Johnson, an outspoken and notable activist for LGBTQ+ rights. The rioting and protesting continued for six continuous days, and the uprising is known as one of the first major protests bringing new attention to the movement for equal rights for LGBTQ+ people.
The Stonewall Riots, also known as the Stonewall uprising, was an important event in sparking new fervor for the LGBTQ+ rights movement. As a result of the riots, various new LGBTQ+ rights groups were begun, such as the Gay Liberation Front. Although the Stonewall riots did not begin the LGBTQ+ rights movement, they were crucial to bringing new attention to LGBTQ+ activism and generating newfound support for the movement.