Stonewall Uprising: 50 Years Later
THIS ARTICLE RE-POSTED FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES, JUNE 2019
The crowd of thousands that gathered outside the Stonewall Inn on Friday, packing the streets around the most famous gay bar in the world, assembled to pay tribute to the pioneers who 50 years ago led a protest that galvanized the modern gay rights movement.
The emotional rally, held on a warm summer night in Greenwich Village, commemorated the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Around a stage at the corner of Christopher Street and Waverly Place, candy-colored wigs and bright apparel mixed with a sea of rainbow flags like the ones that have been festooned around New York City in June for the monthlong Pride celebrations.
But amid the festive atmosphere, advocates and politicians, in their remarks, took a tone of staunch resistance, making it clear that they believed the fight for equality was far from over and emphasizing that a host of national and global policies still discriminated against the L.G.B.T. community.
“We as an L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.-plus community need to fight now, more than ever, as the rights of our community are rolled back,” said Marti Gould Cummings, a New York City drag performer and activist.
“As transgender people aren’t allowed to serve in the military; as 28 states tell us we can be fired for being who we are; as six trans women of color have been murdered this month alone — it’s an epidemic, and we must fight for our community now,” Mr. Cummings said, to cheers.
It was a message repeated by other speakers and enthusiastically received by the crowd.
“Fifty years ago, those brave activists stood on this street and fought back,” said Corey Johnson, the openly gay and H.I.V. positive City Council speaker. “Let’s keep fighting.”
And Cathy Marino-Thomas, an activist with Gays Against Guns, said, “This is not the time to sit at home and worry, it is the time for action.”
Throughout the rally, spectators mingled, some facing the stage, intently listening to speakers, others meandering about, photographing the sights and gaping at the crowd. The group represented the diversity of the L.G.B.T. movement, with a range of ages, ethnicities, gender expressions and nationalities.
Frits Huffnagel, 50, the chairman of Amsterdam Pride, said he had long been planning to attend this year’s celebrations — his first ever New York Pride — in large part because of the significance of the Stonewall anniversary.
“All the Prides we have in the world, it started here. We are all standing on the shoulders of the people that were here,” he said.
Kiyomi Calloway, 20, who was handing out rainbow lollipops in front of the Stonewall Inn, said that it was “surreal and confusing and powerful” to stand on a street where 50 years ago the police attacked a crowd of gay people, and now the police were protecting a larger crowd.
“A lot of social mentality has changed,” she said, adding that in the future she wanted to see more protections for trans women of color.
Amid a weekend of late-night dance parties, outdoor concerts and a colorful corporate-sponsored parade, the rally Friday night was intended to be the main political event during the WorldPride festival, a global event that has previously been held in Rome, Jerusalem, London, Toronto and Madrid.
Many Pride celebrations, WorldPride included, can trace their origins back to the clash that broke out between the police and the crowd outside the Stonewall Inn and the days of protest that followed.
The bar, now a national monument, has become a tourist destination for those looking to honor L.G.B.T history. On Friday, even as the rally began outside, about a hundred people were crammed inside the bar, nursing drinks and taking selfies.
“We came to look at this park, this memorial, that’s known around the world, at least in the gay community,” said Scott Douglas, 38, a doctor who came from Australia with his partner, a police officer, to celebrate Pride.
The Stonewall uprising began in the hours after midnight on June 28, 1969, when police officers with the now-extinct Public Morals Squad raided the bar. It was late on a warm summer night, and the inn, a mob-run dive without a liquor license, was packed.
As the police had in previous raids, they began arresting employees, who they said were selling alcohol illegally. The customers were ushered out of the bar, but officers pulled some aside, asking for identification, checking for what was considered gender-appropriate clothing and demanding that some cross-dressers submit to anatomical inspections.
The police officers’ behavior had long infuriated L.G.B.T. people, who, already on the margins of society, saw bars like the Stonewall as safe havens.
That night, the tension, long simmering, hit its boiling point.
As officers conducted the raid, a group of onlookers taunted the police, crying, “Gay power.” The conflict escalated after one woman who resisted arrest was shoved into the back of a police car. Some started to throw coins, stones and bottles at the car and at officers.
It was then that the uprising turned into a clash. As news of the conflict spread, it became a call to arms for the gay liberation movement. Days and nights of street protests followed, marked with more violent encounters.
In the days after the riots, a new group, the Gay Liberation Front, emerged, holding demonstrations that built off the momentum of the energy at Stonewall. On the first anniversary of the rebellion, that group and others joined for the Christopher Street Liberation Day March — viewed now as New York’s first Pride march.
It was the start of a new template for gay activists — one that urged outspoken defiance against homophobic and transphobic forces.
Then, just as gay rights groups were becoming a stronger political force, the community was ravaged by the AIDS epidemic,which struck down many leaders in their primes. Angry activists, motivated by the perceived indifference of political leaders, fought for change.
At the inn on Friday night, Anthony Zullo, 62, who grew up in New York City and remembered the uprising, said it thrilled him to see how many people had gathered to honor its participants. But he had a message for the revelers taking part.
“It’s not about a party,” he said. “It’s about your rights and your freedom.”
Derek M. Norman, Emily Palmer, Aaron Randle and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.