Pride Month: What Straight & Cisgendered People Need to Know About the Stonewall Riots

By May 28, 2021General

New York City. Summer 1969.

You sneak into a dark, seedy bar owned by the Mafia to have a drink and go dancing with your friends. Despite the fact that this particular establishment has no running water, is regularly raided by the police, and makes more money blackmailing wealthy clientele for participating in “transactions” on the upper level of the building than selling alcohol, you keep going back again and again.

Why?

Because the Stonewall Inn is the club in Greenwich Village where the LGBTQA+ community can be who they are – even though it’s illegal to be who they are – openly.

Kind of.

The police could show up at any moment and demand your ID. If you can’t produce an ID, you’re arrested. If your outfit is, shall we say, gender non-conforming, you’re arrested. If you’re an employee who doesn’t hop over the bar fast enough to blend in with the crowd, you’re arrested. Everyone else is sent home.

But not tonight.

Tonight, patrons linger outside the Stonewall Inn as police load customers into police wagons.

Tonight, the crowd grows.

Tonight, someone shouts “GAY POWER!” as people start to throw trash, rocks, and pennies at police.

Tonight will be the night we look back on 50 years from now as one of the major catalysts for the Gay Rights Movement and the inception of Pride Month every June.

Tonight turns into tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. No doubt fueled in part by the energy of the Civil Rights & Women’s Movements, hundreds protestors fight back against the police – now barricaded in the Stonewall (ironically) for their own safety.

“We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration…There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it.” ¹

– Michael Fader, Stonewall Inn Patron

The Stonewall Uprising and Gay Rights Movement

LGBTQA+ history certainly didn’t begin with the Stonewall Uprising. Neither was it the first time the community had fought back against the police. But so much of what we have now – the progress that has been made and the freedoms attained – we owe to June 28, 1969. In the months following the “riots” political activists began organizing and empowering members of the community – both LGBTQA+ and their allies.

On the 1st Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, thousands of people marched from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park in commemoration of Christopher Street Liberation Day – this was America’s first Gay Pride Parade and the start of what we now know as Pride Month in June.

As we look to the future, here are 5 ways allies can support and fight for the rights of the LGBTQA+ community:

  1. Use the correct pronouns. It costs $0 to be a decent human being who respectfully acknowledges another’s dignity and worth by using their preferred pronouns – both when they are and aren’t present.
  2. Use your privilege. You may not be personally responsible for the descrimination that others face, but you are responsible for making sure you are not contributing to the problem.
  3. Use your brain. Research. Read. Do the heavy lifting to understand this community before you ask questions – your education is not their responsibility.
  4. Use your voice. Speak up online and in-person when you see injustice or hear bigoted slurs.
  5. Use your bank account. Donate to that alliance. Buy that shirt. Attend that rally. If you want to amplify your voice, put your money where your mouth is!

¹ Carter, David (2004). Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. St. Martin’s Press. P. 160