Four Policemen Hurt in 'Village' Raid
Four Policemen Hurt in 'Village' Raid
Date: June 29, 1969
Source: "Four Policement Hurt in 'Village' Raid." New York Times (June 29, 1969).
About the Author: This article was written by an anonymous staff writer at the New York Times.
The Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969 ignited the gay civil rights movement. The riots reflected widespread anger at long-standing police harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people.
Shortly after midnight on June 27, 1969, nine plainclothes detectives entered the Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. This part of New York City was well-known for attracting a gay crowd. Police had visited the Stonewall Inn in the past to arrest and harass patrons. Those arrested were booked and held overnight, and their arrests were announced in the newspapers for neighbors and relatives to see. Homosexuals often lost their jobs when they were exposed as gay.
On this day, the police intended to close the bar for selling liquor without a license. As the bartender, doorman, and three male-to-female transgendered individuals were arrested and led to a police wagon, an unexpectedly angry crowd gathered. The crowd soon swelled to over 400 people. People in the crowd started to throw coins, a reference to the payoffs that police historically accepted from gay men threatened with arrest. They also threw beer bottles and bricks.
The arresting officers retreated and tried to remain inside the bar. However, the mob, now chanting "Pigs" and "Faggot cops," smashed down the door. A detective threatened to shoot the first man through the door. One of the protesters then tried to set the bar on fire using lighter fluid and matches. Another protester was grabbed by the detectives and beaten on the head. Meanwhile, the barrage of bottles, cans, and rocks continued. One group of protesters uprooted a parking meter and hurled it towards the police. When police reinforcements arrived, the crowd gradually faded away.
A second consecutive night of rioting in Greenwich Village began when a crowd gathered outside the Stonewall Inn to protest the previous night's police raid. Police units poured into the area in response. The mostly male protesters set fires, threw bottles, and shouted "Legalize gay bars," "Gay is good," and "We are the Stonewall girls/We wear our hair in curls/We have no underwear/We show our pubic hair." One group of gay men formed a chorus line and did a can-can routine down the street until they were dispersed by police with billy clubs. The riot lasted about two hours.
The final Stonewall riot occurred on July 3. Five hundred protesters gathered to chant gay pride slogans and march down Christopher Street. Police broke up the protest with nightsticks, leaving many protesters bleeding on the sidewalk.
The riots initially attracted little attention from both the straight and gay communities. A brief report of the first confrontation appeared on page 33 of the New York Times two days later.
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The alternative press spread the news of the Stonewall Riots over the next few months to people who understood the significance of the uprising. By 1969, there were dozens of gay and lesbian organizations that were working for civil rights for homosexuals. Yet none of these groups captured the imagination of large numbers of gays and lesbians. Stonewall became an iconic moment because it provided enough drama to inspire gays and lesbians to resist discrimination.
The riots started a widespread movement to remove the stigma from homosexuality. Gays and lesbians engaged in conduct that was criminal according to law. They could be arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for dressing in the clothing of a member of the opposite sex. They were commonly seen as being seriously disturbed, with the American Psychiatric Association labeling homosexuality as a mental illness. In this climate, queers typically lost custody of their children, lost jobs, and lost homes because of discrimination that was legal.
The Stonewall Riots are a part of the 1960s drive for minority civil rights. The Gay Revolution or the Gay Liberation Movement, as it was commonly called, came on the heels of the Black Revolution, the Chicano Revolution, and the Women's Liberation Movement. Primed by a decade of militant movements for other minorities, gays and lesbians developed their own militancy. The riots helped them see themselves as another unjustly oppressed minority.
Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004.
Thompson, Mark, editor. Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
Stonewall and Beyond: Gay and Lesbian Culture. 〈http://www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/eresources/exhibitions/sw25/〉 (accessed March 31, 2006).