Submitted by Chris Payne, CTAS
Pride is celebrated by the LGBTQ community in June every year, around the world. The month of June was chosen to commemorate the Stonewall Riots that began on June 28, 1969. The Stonewall Inn is a bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. In June 1969, the bar was owned and operated by the mafia. For years, the mob bribed police officers at the local police precinct so that they would not shut down the bar for operating without a liquor license and so that they would tip the owners off before one of the routine raids on the bar occurred. The Stonewall Inn was one of a handful of bars operating in New York’s Greenwich Village that welcomed all patrons, especially those marginalized by society because they identified as LGBTQ. In the Summer of 1969, bars like the Stonewall Inn were targets for police raids and shakedowns, because homosexuality was illegal in New York and every other state in the United States, except Illinois. While it not entirely clear why the police decided to raid the Stonewall Inn at approximately 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969, or why the owners were not tipped off before the raid, what is known is that the riots that occurred after raid and the burning of the Stonewall Inn ignited the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States. The police raids, protests and riots continued through July 2, 1969. Activists were able to leverage the momentum from the Stonewall Riots to propel the LGBTQ rights movement forward. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and 2020 will be the 50th anniversary of the first LGBTQ Pride Parade which started in front of the Stonewall Inn.
And while Pride commemorates the Stonewall Riots, the riots were not the starting point for the LGBTQ rights movement in the United States. For decades before the riots, individuals who identified as LGBTQ and allies of the LGBTQ community worked for equal rights for LGBTQ Americans. LGBTQ rights organizations like the Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society began in the early 1950s. These organizations regularly held demonstrations across the country in an effort to advocate for so many in the LGBTQ community who were forced to live their lives in secret, at that time.
Additionally, a number of the individuals who were part of the LGBTQ rights movement were also activists in the larger civil rights movement that was taking place in the United States in the late 1960s. For example, one of the organizers of the March on Washington was a gay African American man named Bayard Rustin. Rustin worked on various social movements for many decades and in the early 1960s, he worked as an organizer for the March on Washington. He did not receive public recognition for the work he did for the March on Washington at the time of the march, because he was gay. He later worked in the LGBTQ rights movement and testified in Congressional hearings.
On June 6, 2019, nearly 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, the current police commissioner for the City of New York publicly apologized for the role the NYPD played in the riots and for the actions the police department took in enforcing laws that were discriminatory against members of the LGBTQ community.