The 1960s were steeped with important demonstrations involving minority groups standing up for their rights. Along with the Civil Rights Movement, the Stonewall Uprising in New York City laid the groundwork for legislative victories to come.
Also referred to as the Stonewall Riots, the Stonewall Uprising, sparked on June 28, 1969, was the result of repeated harassment by law enforcement of the Stonewall Inn’s gay patrons. These riots paved the way for an international gay rights movement. I would like to discuss this because in June, we celebrate Pride Month.
The Stonewall Riots
Though famously liberal, New York State outlawed sexual relationships between same-sex individuals until 1980. One of the few places where LGBTQ+ people could seek refuge from public harassment was in gay bars. Nonetheless, police often harassed gay bar patrons.
In the early hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, nine police officers went into the Stonewall Inn and arrested the workers for selling alcohol without a license. In addition, they assaulted many of its clients, cleared the bar, and took several people into custody, citing a law that forbade people from wearing three articles of clothing not appropriate for their gender.
The people at the bar attacked the police as they watched bar patrons being forced into a police wagon. The police summoned reinforcements and locked themselves inside the Stonewall Inn while an estimated 400 people participated in the riot. The police barricade was brought down, and the Stonewall Inn was set ablaze. The NYFD and riot squads arrived in the nick of time to put out the fire, and they finally dispersed the crowd.
But the protest carried on for the next five days. Many historians believe that the uprising was a massive protest against the constant police harassment and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the 1960s. While there were many other protests from the LGBTQ+ community, the Stonewall Uprising was believed to be the first time LGBTQ+ people saw the merit of coming together to fight for a cause.
The Uprising’s Legacy
Stonewall was subsequently cemented as an icon of resistance to social and political discrimination. It even paved the way for LGBTQ+ rights organizations like Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, PFLAG, and the Gay Liberation Front.
In 1999, the U.S. National Park Service put the Stonewall Inn on the National Register of Historic Places. Former President Barack Obama pronounced the building and its surroundings a National Monument in 2016, and in 2019, before the 50th anniversary of the uprising, New York City’s police commissioner at the time, James P. O’Neill, apologized for the NYPD’s heinous actions during the uprising.
This Pride Month, the 14Y gallery is presenting visual art by 14Y staff and is open to the public until June 30. To celebrate Pride all month, we worked with community partners LABA NY and LAB/SHUL for Shabbat Queer at the 14Y. Our Family Youth and Pride Celebration was a big hit! And we’re concluding the month with a Pride Celebration Dance Party at the Sirovich Center for Balanced Living on Friday, June 30. We do hope you’ll join us. For more information, visit our website.
Civil rights activism, including gay rights, speaks to me. Full disclosure: I know some friends who are LGBTQ+. The Stonewall Riots are a prime example of how standing up for your rights paves the way for great change. Although we still have a long way to go, people are becoming more aware of how important the LGBTQ+ community is. Needless to say, it cannot be denied that the Stonewall Riots will continue to inspire activists for generations to come.