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The Stonewall Riots
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The crowd threw various objects at the police and forced them to retreat. This led to six days of protests and clashes between the residents and bar patrons and law enforcement. The Stonewall Riots were not the first time LGBTQ+ people fought back against police harassment, but they are the most well-known case and the Stonewall Riots were a catalyst for the gay liberation movement in the US and around the globe.
The Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 1969 when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Police often raided gay bars, and it was typical for patrons who were dressed in drag to be arrested. One night in the summer of 1969, cops stormed the Stonewall Inn and arrested patrons. However, on this particular night, the crowd of bar patrons and residents of the neighborhood grew angry and eventually, someone encouraged the onlookers to fight back.
Unfortunately, the 1960s was a very difficult time to be LGBTQ+. For this reason, LGBTQ+ people went to bars where they could be themselves. However, New York often penalized or shut down bars that would serve LGBTQ+ people. Thanks to the effort of LGBTQ+ activists, these regulations were overturned and LGBTQ+ bar patrons could be served alcohol as of 1966. However, engaging in any same-sex behavior in public (holding hands, dancing with someone of the same sex) was still illegal, so police continued to raid gay bars. Photo of Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent figure in the Stonewall Riots
One part of why these bars were raided was because many did not have liquor licenses, and the Stonewall Inn happened to be owned by the Mafia. The Mafia bribed the local police precinct to ignore illegal activities within the club. As a result of the lack of police interference, the Mafia cut costs by not having a fire exit, barely washing glasses, having awful toilets, and watered down their drinks. However, Stonewall still became a popular club in Greenwich Village, partly because it welcomed drag queens and dancing, both of which were not welcomed in other bars.
The Stonewall Inn was still raided, but typically corrupt cops would tell the Mafia beforehand, so the owners could hide the alcohol. However, the raid on June 28th came as a surprise. Police entered the bar, roughed up patrons and then arrested 13 people, some of which for violating the state’s rules about clothing. Officers would take patrons suspected of cross-dressing into the bathrooms to check their sex.
Due to this horrible treatment, and fed up with constant police harassment, the bar patrons and neighborhood residents stayed outside the bar on the 28th of June and watched angrily as the events unfolded. An officer hit a lesbian over the head as he forced her into a police car, and she yelled at the onlookers to act, which encouraged the crowd to throw bottles, stones, and other objects at the cops. It quickly became a riot, and the police had to barricade themselves inside the bar. Stonewall was a turning point for LGBTQ+ political activism.