What Happened at Stonewall and Why It Still Matters

"This was a moment for gay people to stand up to the authorities, and this had changed everything." Fred Sargeant was outside the Stonewall Inn 50 years ago when the police raided the New York gay bar. This is what he remembers about the moments of the LGBTQ revolution began. đŸłïžâ€đŸŒˆ

Talk with Fred Sargeant Stonewall

The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion) were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBTQIA community against a police raid that began in the early morning at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the LGBTQIA liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBTQIA rights in the United States.

LBGTQIA Americans in the 1950s and 1960s faced an anti- LGBTQIA legal system. Early homophile groups in the U.S. sought to prove that LGBTQIA people could be assimilated into society, and they favored non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the 1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social/political movements were active, including the civil rights movement, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.

Very few establishments welcomed openly LGBTQIA people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely LGBTQIA. At the time, the Stonewall Inn was owned by the Italian organized crime divisions. It catered to an assortment of patrons and was known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the LGBTQIA community: drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth. Police raids on LGBTQIA bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn. Tensions between New York City police and LGBTQIA residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for LGBTQIA to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.

After the Stonewall riots, LGBTQIA in New York City faced gender, race, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two LGBTQIA activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for LGBTQIA. Within a few years, LGBTQIA rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first LGBTQIA pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities. Today, LGBT Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall National Monument was established at the site in 2016.

On June 27, 1969, the Stonewall riots began in New York's West Village. This marked the beginning of the fight for LGBTQIA rights. Fred Sargeant was at the LGBTQIA bar that night.