Stonewall Riots, June 28th – July 3rd 2023
On June 28th 1969, a police raid on a bar in New York City led to one of the largest Western LGBTQ+ movements. Today marks the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The riots took place during the same time as civil rights movements. Different marginalised groups, such as women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ people, were fighting for their right to exist in the US.
What happened at Stonewall?
The Stonewall riots refer to the uprising that took place at the LGBTQ+ New York City bar the Stonewall Inn. LGBTQ+ people had long been frustrated with the way they were treated and the police brutality they faced. Back in 1969, being gay was also still classified as a mental illness in the US.
The 1960s, as well as its prior decades, were not welcoming times for the LGBTQ+ community. Therefore, queer and trans people sought refuge in gay bars and clubs. These venues were some of the only places where they could be their authentic selves without fearing violence. However, since displaying homosexual behaviours in public was illegal, police would harass and attack LGBTQ+ venues.
After the police raided the Stonewall Inn bar on June 28th of 1969, queer and trans people stood up to them and finally fought back. The LGBTQ+ community called for equality and an end to anti-LGBTQ+ violence. For three nights in a row, queer and trans people fought against police brutality at the Stonewall Inn. It is important to acknowledge that lesbians and trans women of colour were leading in the fight against homophobia and transphobia.
The Stonewall riots led to the Gay Liberation movement and what we now refer to as the first ever Pride. What we now celebrate as Pride used to be a form of protest. We should keep this in mind when attending Pride events. This became especially evident in 2020, during the #BlackLivesMatter protests. Political protests are a necessary tool to signify the need for a change and the betterment of human rights.
Important figures around the time of Stonewall
In order to seek queer and trans liberation now, it is important we acknowledge the past. Many LGBTQ+ members were at the forefront of this political movement in the 1960s, and 1970s. Therefore, we would like to focus on three prominent pioneers from said time.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson was a Black trans person and drag artist whose activism had a significant impact on the LGBTQ+ community in the US. Many referred to her as a ‘drag mother’. The ‘P’ in her name stood for ‘Pay it no mind’.
Johnson is one of the most prominent queer figures of the Gay Liberation movement. She co-founded the Gay Liberation Front and fought for people living with HIV alongside ACT UP. Johnson’s activism continues to be celebrated to this day.
Sylvia Rivera became one of the leaders of the LGBTQ+ movement around the time of the Stonewall riots. She was a trans person who after getting kicked out of her family home found a chosen family in the streets of New York City.
After 1969, Rivera started working for the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). She fought heavily for the inclusion of working class, queer and trans people of colour.
While nobody knows who threw the first punch during the Stonewall uprising, many believe it could have been Stormé DeLarverie. She was a gay rights activist and drag performer. She was visibly gender non-conforming, a butch lesbian who wore suits and performed as a drag king in the 1950s and 1960s.
What was once a political protest has turned into a celebration of queer and trans joy. However, its political roots should never be forgotten. They are the foundation of a marginalised community that demanded and fought for basic human rights. While we celebrate how far we have come since the Stonewall riots, it is crucial we continue to fight for trans rights.