The 1960’s United States saw many social justice movements that continue to be taught in schools, celebrated in communities, and serve as inspiration for political movements to this day. Most Americans can tell you the basics of some of these movements, such as feminism or the Civil Rights Movement, but can they tell you about the spark that started the fight for LGBT+ rights in 1969?
Gay bars in the ‘60s were some of the only places members of the LGBT+ community could go to, and be themselves without guaranteed prosecution, so it makes sense how the LGBT+ movement was ultimately founded right inside one called the Stonewall Inn, located in New York City. Bars like Stonewall were prone to police raids, where cops would shut down the bars for disobeying regulations targeting LGBT+ people. Most raids went down simply, cops would shut the building down and arrest anyone who wasn’t wearing “gender appropriate” clothing or dancing with someone of the same gender – but most raids weren’t like Stonewall.
The night of June 28th, 1969, Stonewall was raided by police officers, who were lining up bar patrons and checking their IDs and clothing. As cops began to take Stonewall customers outside of the bar, they began to fight back, throwing anything they could at the police officers. More and more people gathered outside of the bar, not all of them from the bar, and watched as cops pulled people under arrest to their van. People booed and pushed themselves against the van. The crowd threw things, burned things, and shouted they were done being treated the way they were treated.
Among the revolutionary group of people gathered at the Stonewall Inn was transgender drag queens Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Both women are credited with being right in the center of the riot and protesting for their rights at Stonewall and afterward in later riots similar as well.
By four that morning, the streets were cleared. Thirteen people were arrested, some protesters were hospitalized, four police officers were injured, and everything in Stonewall was destroyed. During the riot, Craig Rodwell called several newspapers to tell them what had happened. News of the protest spread so fast that the next night, even more people came to Stonewall to protest the treatment of the LGBT+ community.
In the year of 1970, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were both activists for not just LGBT+ rights, but protesting against racism, as Johnson was black and Rivera, Latina. The pair established the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, aka STAR, together. STAR’s main focus was giving shelter to LGBT+ homeless youth in New York. Johnson and Rivera fought tirelessly until their passings for transgender rights.
The long lasting legacy of the Stonewall Inn protests sparked riots, protests, and LGBT+ rights groups, not just in NYC, but all over. Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera both are inspirations to the LGBT+ community and activists, and their light and hard work fighting for our rights has not been forgotten. The Stonewall Inn still stands as a US National Landmark, supporting the history behind the current LGBT+ movement known today.