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Stonewall Rebellions, the Catalyst of the Gay Liberation Movement

By Bella Mendoza

Throughout the world, people are persecuted and stereotyped for who they choose to love. Time and time again, there are people who are disowned by their families for coming out as gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, etc. With time, some parts have slowly come to accept members of the LGBTQ community, but the majority of queer individuals are still ridiculed for who they love. Despite the hardship they endure, June is a time to celebrate them for being their authentic self and to remember those who fought relentlessly for the freedom to be openly gay.

The United States has a long history of anti-gay rhetoric. Less than ten years ago, gay marriage was not even recognized as a fundamental right. It took until June 26th, 2015 when “the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalized it in all fifty states, and required states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses.” This victory did not come easy for the LGBTQ+ community. It took years and years of protests, lawsuits, etc to alter the law of the land. One of the most significant events that altered LGBTQ activism was the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969.

In the 1960s, New York City was filled with members of the LGBTQ community who were forced to hide their sexual identity as solicitation of same-sex relations was illegal in New York City. Compelled to keep their life a secret, members of the queer community sought refuge in underground gay bars and clubs where they could openly express themselves without fear of oppression. To combat this, the New York State Liquor Authority would penalize and shut down venues that had a history of catering to LGBTQ+ individuals, labeling them as “disorderly”.

With the Mafia running rampant in New York, the Genovese Crime Family had an abundance of power. In 1966 they bought the Stonewall Inn, a previously straight bar and restaurant that transformed it into a gay pub. Although the police raids were still common, the Genovese family was often tipped off by corrupt law enforcement they paid off. Soon this bar became home to all LGBTQ patrons. They welcomed Drag Queens who were shunned from other neighboring gay bars, allowed dancing, and allowed people to express their sexuality in a way that has never been done before.

On the morning of June 28th, 1969 police swarmed Stonewall Inn (without warning) and arrested 13 individuals for “cross-dressing.” Tired of the constant persecution, individuals gathered outside the bar in protest. Police began manhandling victims and arresting peaceful protesters, soon resulting in a full-blown rebellion consisting of hundreds of people. Although this was not the first police raid on a gay bar nor the first time queer individuals fought back, it was the collective activism and unity first seen in this rebellion that changed the trajectory of the LGBTQ+ movement.

This protest lasted for six (6) days and was a catalyst for the Gay Liberation Movement. It showed to the world that the LGBTQ + community will not stand for injustices and started a long fight for equality. The media coverage and the mass of support created an uproar throughout the country creating an echo no one could ignore. Through the aftermath of the rebellion, numerous gay rights activists arose from this rebellion, including the celebrated Marsha P Johnson, who fought extensively for trans women of color, unhoused youth, and all those who were persecuted by society. Stonewall created a shift in queer activism. Previously, the movement consisted of white cis-gender individuals but now was led by POC and gender-non-conforming folks who do not reap the benefit of blending into society and concealing their marginalized identities.

The Stonewall Uprising is a milestone in queer history that marked the start of a new form of activism. Stonewall leaders and activists risked their lives to create true equality for individuals all across the state, inspiring countless others to come out and express their true identities. Despite the fact that society has come a long way in accepting queer individuals, work still needs to be done to achieve true equality in this heteronormative society.

Marsha P. Johnson, Gay Rights Activist - Source: BBC

Stonewall Rebellion Source: Leonard Fink/The LGBT Community Center National History Archive

photo by Diana Davies © New York Public Library


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