Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Stonewall Inn - September 1969
The Stonewall Inn might not be a recognizable place for many Americans, but the riots that took place there marked the most important turning point for the LGBT movement in the United States. The riots were a reaction to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969.

Police raids on gay bars were frequent in this era, occurring about once a month. During these raids, alcohol was seized, anyone in drag was arrested, and the owners were usually arrested too.

However, at Stonewall, the patrons didn’t comply. Men didn’t show ID, people in drag refused to go to the bathroom to prove that they weren’t crossdressing. Police tried restraining the growing crowd, and pushed some people down. After a while, the crowd had over 500 people, and the police barricaded themselves inside the inn to protect themselves. The crowd then hurled projectiles at the inn, breaking the windows.

Photo from New York Daily News front page - June 29, 1969

Once more police arrived, they tried freeing the police trapped in Stonewall and detained as many people as possible. Fight broke out, which led to the police marching down the street in military formation while the crowd of LGBT people was doing a kickline on the other side of the street.

Sylvia Rivera, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front who was in Stonewall during the raid, recalled thinking that the police had been “treating us like shit all these years...Now it's our turn... It was one of the greatest moments in my life.” In all, thirteen people were arrested. Some in the crowd were hospitalized, and four police officers were injured. Three New York newspapers covered the riots the next day. And the crowds were just as large if not larger the next night. The riots continued for six nights.

New York Times Coverage of Stonewall from 1969

Stonewall represented a turning point in the LGBT movement, the moment that LGBT people got angry and took a stand for equality. President Obama referenced Stonewall in his second inaugural address before saying that “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” This was the first mention of the word “gay” or gay rights in an inaugural address, and the president invoked Stonewall in the same sentence as Selma (a historic march which led to the 1965 voting rights act) and Seneca Falls (the first ever women’s rights convention). The comparison conveys how important the riots truly were. In fact, pride festivals are usually held in June specifically to commemorate Stonewall.

The Stonewall Riots are important to PFLAG’s history in addition to the history of the LGBT movement as a whole. Among the patrons at Stonewall was Morty Manford, the son of PFLAG’s founder Jeanne Manford. After Stonewall, Morty helped found the Gay Activists Alliance and became its president. Morty was famously beaten by Michael Maye, then president of the city’s Uniformed Firefighters Association, while he was protesting 50th annual Inner Circle dinner. The protest’s message was that the city government and media were ignoring gay-rights issues. Maye was tried and acquitted but the incident brought attention to the protest, and led to the 1986 passage of a city gay-rights law.

For more information on Stonewall, visit these links:

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