The Stonewall uprising that began 40 years ago this month in Greenwich Village has come to be seen as a defining event in the development of the gay rights movement, but little visual evidence has survived from the six nights of the disturbances, in which gay men fought back against a pattern of police harassment.
A series of photographs that were taken by a New York Times photographer on the sixth and final night of the disturbances, but not published, has surfaced, offering what David Carter, who wrote a comprehensive history of the riots in 2004, says are the only known images from the uprising’s tumultuous finale.
Nicholas Gupta, a student at Pensacola High School in Florida, won the first-place award for a museum style exhibit he worked on for eleven months called “Out of the Closet and Into the Streets: The Stonewall Uprising of 1969.”
Gupta, who’s straight and just completed his junior year at Pensacola High, said he first learned about the Stonewall riots while searching for a topic for the contest. Organizers of the annual contest called on students to select a topic that fits into the theme of “revolution, reaction, and reform in history.”
The word 'Stonewall' has entered the vocabulary of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people everywhere as a potent emblem of the gay community making a stand against oppression and demanding full equality in every area of life. Since the riots it has been adopted in all manner of gay-related contexts, from housing organisations to holiday firms. And a prominent gay rights group in Britain passes under the name Stonewall, although its strategy of backroom lobbying and deals with the New Labour government is far removed from the heroic spirit of resistance shown on Christopher Street in June 1969.
The site of the Stonewall riots, the Stonewall Inn, is still in business in its original location, despite several ups and downs since. The bar and surrounding area (named Stonewall Place) was officially recognized by New York City as a historic landmark in 1999, and as a National Historic Landmark in 2000. Young gay people visiting NYC in search of their roots will find various plaques at the bar, along the street, and in Christopher Park, but otherwise will discover that Stonewall now is just another rather successful gay bar in an increasingly modern metropolis.
As Rodwell left the Stonewall Inn that Sunday morning, a year after the riots and forty-two years ago this month, there were perhaps a dozen marchers. But as they proceeded from Stonewall up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, the numbers grew until there were an unheard of crowd of thousands of gay men and lesbian women out and out of doors for the first time in history. And so the myth of Stonewall began. Strategic, discrete, well-planned, original (in its time), the Stonewall march is the pure manifestation of how social movements succeed. It was the birthday party for Stonewall, not the birth the year before, that gave rise to the triumphant gay revolution.
Stonewall did not come from nowhere. The first night, when the bar erupted, a bunch of experienced activists from the unfashionable old nineteen-fifties gay organization, the Mattachine Society, and from the hot new antiwar movement, were in the crowd. Jim Fouratt, a young and charismatic member of Students for a Democratic Society, who had already been trying to radicalize the Mattachine Society, stopped in his tracks when he saw the crowd gathering outside the bar. Another veteran S.D.S.’er, John O’Brien, from the board of the counterculture free school Alternate U., was there. Bob Kohler, from the old Congress of Racial Equality, walked by and stayed. Gay bookstore owner Craig Rodwell shouted “gay power,” and although no one took up the chant, a big crowd gathered and fought the police again the next night.
This excerpt mentions "Democratic", "Racial Equality", and "antiwar" as major activist groups, and "unfashionable old nineteen-fifties gay organization" as a meager emerging group. It is true that prior to Stonewall there was no real unifying LGTBQ movement. The public opinion and legal oppression of homosexuality was so strongly negative that it discouraged many LGBTQ people to stand up for themselves. Stonewall is such a revolutionary movement because it occurred in a time when holding hands with your partner could get you arrested.
Officer Charles Broughton of the 1st Division arrested Raymond Castro, Marilyn Fowler and Vincent DePaul, charging that they “with each other did shove and kick the officer.” This is the first time that Fowler and DePaul have been named and documented as rebellion participants. Fowler’s name is extremely significant, since no other woman’s arrest has so far been documented, and numbers of witnesses attributed the intensification of the riot to the arrest and resistance of an unnamed butch lesbian. (Castro is named as a participant in David Carter’s Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution.
The whole proceeding took on the aura of a homosexual Academy Awards Night. The Queens pranced out to the street blowing kisses and waving to the crowd. A beauty of a specimen named Stella wailed uncontrollably while being led to the sidewalk in front of the Stonewall by a cop. She later confessed that she didn't protest the manhandling by the officer, it was just that her hair was in curlers and she was afraid her new beau might be in the crowd and spot her. She didn't want him to see her this way, she wept.
This is an excerpt from an article that printed in the New York Times in 1969. It portrays the gay youth at Stonewall as overdramatic "girls" and does not mention police brutality at all. This pro-police, anti-gay article shows how the media also influenced the general public's outlook on the LGBTQ population, and how violent raids such as Stonewall's could have possibly been overlooked before.
On the first night of the Stonewall riots, African Americans and Latinos likely were the largest percentage of the protestors, because we heavily frequented the bar. For homeless black and Latino LGBTQ youth and young adults who slept in nearby Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn was their stable domicile. The Stonewall Inn being raided was nothing new. In the 1960s gay bars in the Village were routinely raided, but in this case, race may have been an additional factor, given the fact that so many of the patrons were black and Latino, and this was the '60s.
The crowd of ejected customers started to throw coins at the officers, in mockery of the notorious system of payoffs - earlier dubbed 'gayola' - in which police chiefs leeched huge sums from establishments used by gay people, and used 'public morals' raids to regulate their racket. Soon coins were followed by bottles, rocks - and other items. Cheers ran out as the prisoners in the van were liberated. Detective Inspector Pine later recalled, 'I had been in combat situations, but there was never any time that I felt more scared than then'.
At first everything unfolded according to a time-honoured ritual. Seven plain-clothes detectives and a uniformed officer entered and announced their presence. The bar staff stopped serving the watered-down, overpriced drinks, while their Mafia bosses swiftly removed the cigar boxes which functioned as tills. The officers demanded identification papers from the customers and then escorted them outside, throwing some into the bowels of a waiting paddy-wagon and pushing others off the sidewalk.
But at a certain point the 'usual suspects' departed from the script and decided to fight back. A debate still rages over which incident sparked the riot. Was it a 'butch' lesbian dressed in man's clothes who resisted arrest, or a male drag queen who stopped in the doorway between the officers and posed defiantly, rallying the crowd?
Moreover, a few weeks earlier the Sixth Precinct had received a new commanding officer who marked his entry into the position by initiating a series of raids on gay bars. The Stonewall Inn was an especially inviting target. Operating without a liquor license, reputed to have ties with organized crime, and offering scantily clad go-go boys as entertainment, it brought an "unruly" element to Sheridan Square, a busy Village intersection. Patrons of the Stonewall tended to be young and nonwhite. Many were drag queens, and many came from the burgeoning ghetto of runaways living across town in the East Village.
The Stonewall Riots were a series of violent protests and street demonstrations that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, and centered around a gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. These riots are widely credited with being the motivating force in the transformation of the gay political movement. Everything else about these riots--how they started and who were responsible; who were the patrons of the Stonewall Inn; who were the owners; what happened at the riots; who was there and who was not; and pretty much everything else revolving around these riots--has been a bone of contention between various individuals and interest groups within and without the gay world.
As we've seen so many times in history, once that spirit takes hold there is little that can stand in its way. (Applause.) And the riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day. It continues when a partner fights for her right to sit at the hospital bedside of a woman she loves. It continues when a teenager is called a name for being different and says, "So what if I am?" It continues in your work and in your activism, in your fight to freely live your lives to the fullest.