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The foundation for Pride Month is found at the Stonewall

  • Published
  • By Ronald Popio
  • 436th Airlift Wing

 

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. – Why is Pride important? To answer that question, we need to look back at the history of Pride. Pride celebrations worldwide take many forms, from protests and proms to parties and parades. Thousands of Pride events have taken place in cities around the globe since the start of the modern LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning) liberation movement in the early 1970s. Distinctly local, these events are directly tied to the Stonewall Riots in June 1969—an event that is regarded as the genesis for modern-day Pride Month celebrations. 

In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, after a hot summer night, law enforcement, including a detective and a deputy inspector raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The Inn served as a haven for the city’s gay, lesbian, and transgender community. At the time, homosexual acts were illegal in every state except Illinois. Bars and restaurants could be shut down for having gay employees or simply serving gay patrons. The Mafia operated many gay bars and clubs in New York at the time including the Inn. They also paid corrupt police officers to look the other way and blackmailed wealthy gay patrons by threatening to “out” them. 

Police raids on gay bars were a common occurrence at that time, but that Saturday morning, the LGBTQ community fought back, sparking an uprising that launched a new era of resistance and revolution, eventually forming into what is known as the Pride movement. 

During that time, bars that employed or served gays were denied a liquor license, and a few days prior to Saturday, police had raided the Stonewall, arresting employees and confiscating the bar’s stash of illegal liquor. NYPD had planned a second raid for the following Friday, which they hoped would close the bar for good. 

 Police arrived at the Inn’s double doors and announced, “Police! We’re taking the place!” 

In addition to employees, police rounded up drag queens and other cross-dressing patrons for arrest since “masquerading” as someone of the opposite sex was illegal in New York City at that time. Additional foot patrol officers and three squad cars arrived; patrons that hadn’t been arrested joined the crowds of onlookers that formed outside of the Stonewall. A police van arrived, and officers began herding Stonewall employees and cross-dressers into the van. 

Accounts of the night’s events vary, but when police roughed up a woman dressed in masculine clothes, the crowd became unruly, taunting and insulting the officers. The crowd threw pennies at them, followed by bottles. Someone slashed the tires of the police vehicles. 

Around 4 a.m., the police van and patrol cars left to transport their detainees to the nearby Sixth Precinct. The growing mob forced the remaining NYPD officers to retreat and barricade themselves inside the Stonewall. Rioters broke through the door using a parking meter as a battering ram. Some rioters threw bottles, trash and whatever they could find while others made makeshift firebombs. 

Riot police soon arrived. As officers marched down Christopher Street, rioters ran from them only to circle back and drop in behind the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force (TPF). By dawn, things had settled down. Unbelievably, no one was killed or critically injured on that first night of rioting, although a few police officers reported injuries. 

The Stonewall Inn opened before dark that night despite being torn apart by police and the mob, although they were not serving alcohol. More supporters showed up chanting slogans like, “Gay Power” and “We shall overcome.” 

Law enforcement, including a larger group of TPF officers, arrived and beat and tear-gassed the crowd. The violence continued through the night until the crowd dispersed in the early morning hours. 

Over the next several nights, gay activists gathered near the Inn to spread information and build a sense of community that would become the foundation for the gay rights movement. Law enforcement also returned to Christopher Street, but there were only isolated skirmishes. 

On July 2, protestors swarmed outside the offices of the newspaper, Village Voice. The newspaper’s coverage of the riots was referred as “the forces of faggotry.” Some of the protesters called for burning down the building, and when police pushed back, rioting broke out again for a short time. 

“With Stonewall, the spirit of 1960s rebellion spread to LGBTQ people in New York and beyond, who for the first time found themselves part of a community” (Milestones in Pride History). 

Although the gay rights movement didn’t start at the Stonewall Inn, the uprising marked a turning point that led to more radical groups like Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance. 

On the first anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, gay activists in New York organized the Christopher Street Liberation March as a capstone to the city’s first Gay Pride Week. Hundreds of people marched up 6th Avenue toward Central Park joined by supporters from the crowd. The procession eventually encompassed thousands of people and stretched 15 blocks. 

Inspired by the example New Yorkers set, activists in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago organized Gay Pride celebrations that same year. “The frenzy of activism born on that first night at Stonewall would eventually fuel gay rights movements in Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, among other countries, becoming a lasting force that would carry on for the next half-century—and beyond” (Milestones). 

So, why does Pride matter? Because belonging matters. Because community matters. Because many who come out to family and friends are rejected, ostracized by their family and friend groups and a caring LGBTQ+ Community is a lifeline. It offers acceptance and a sense of family. It offers inclusion. Inclusion matters because EVERYONE matters. Pride is a celebration of our history, our freedoms, and a celebration of who we are.