Push Comes To Shove 43 Years Ago — The Stonewall Riots

I have not been abducted by the heavy metal and rap bands from the 1980s, Twisted Sister and the Beastie Boys.  However, there comes a time to say “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).”

While those anthems of rebellion came in 1984 and 1986, respectively, a disenfranchised group of  drag queens, transgendered, hustlers, homeless youths, and effeminate young men had had enough of being rejected by society in the 1950s and 1960s and took a stand against it on this night 43 years ago.

That act of rebellion is now seen as the start of the gay rights movement and is the reason that gay pride celebrations are held every June.

Gay bars back in the day were not popular like they are today and many bars that catered to the gay community were often targeted and harassed by police.  “The Stonewall Inn”, a bar on Christopher Street in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, was owned by the Mafia.  It catered to the poor and those that faced rejection by the majority of society.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, plainclothes policemen, uniformed police officers, and detectives arrived at the bar and yelled, “Police!  We’re taking the place!”

Police, in a typical raid, lined patrons against the wall, checked their identification, and had female police officers to take drag queens and transgendered people to the bathroom to verify their sex.  If they were men “dressed” as women, they were arrested.

However, this raid didn’t go as planned.  As police escorted out the mostly gay customers, the mob, and employees, the silent crowd outside the bar grew larger.  Eventually, someone yelled, “gay power!” and people started singing “We Shall Overcome”.

When an officer shoved a drag queen and she hit him on the head with her purse, the mood changed and people started throwing beer bottles and coins and word spread that people inside the bar were being beaten by police.  Another scuffle broke out when a handcuffed woman fought back at authorities to keep from being taken away in a police wagon.  The woman who had been hit with a billy club yelled at the crowd outside the bar, “Why don’t you guys do something?”

At that point, the crowd went crazy and they started fighting back and began hurling garbage cans, garbage, bottles, rocks, and bricks at the building.  A drag queen, Sylvia Rivera, remembered yelling at police, “You’ve been treating us like shit all these years? Uh-uh. Now it’s our turn!”  She says, “It was one of the greatest moments in my life.”

On the first night alone, 13 people were arrested and four police officers were injured.  At least two rioters were said to be severely beaten by the police with many more  hurt.

Within six months of that police raid on the bar, which became known as “The Stonewall Riots”, two gay activist groups were formed, and one year later, gay pride festivals were held for the first time in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

That is why Gay Pride parades take place today at the end of June.

That fateful night in 1969 was what the gay community needed to be heard.  Our brothers and sisters were very vocal in the 1980s with ACT UP over the government’s mishandling of the AIDS pandemic and in the early 1990s with “Queer Nation”.  One of the most popular slogans of that angered group was “We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It”.

Peacefully talking things out is the way it should be.  But, when people, the government, and close-minded bigots work hard to hold you down, sometimes you have to shout louder and, sometimes, push and shove.

And, while she may not have had a part in New York City’s “Stonewall Riots”, this is a perfect time to remember Miss Tillie, the “dirty old lady of Chicago”.

At Roscoe’s in Chicago, Miss Tillie was a Saturday afternoon and evening regular, even though she was well into her 70s or maybe, 80s.  During our Saturday afternoons talks, she told me about Boystown back in the 1970s when the gay bars didn’t have windows so you could see out onto the streets because it wasn’t acceptable.  She was such a rebel back then walking down Halsted Street in full drag.  Boy, how times have changed in Chicago and the United States, yet we still have a long way to go.  Miss Tillie, you dirty old lady, thank you for your courage.

To the patrons of The Stonewall Inn 43 years ago, I’ll raise a glass to you tonight and I’ll think of you and your courage the next time I enter a bar and order a drink for fighting for my rights and my right (to party)!

Anthony

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the great post ……….. amazing story.

    Reply

  2. Posted by clayton on June 28, 2012 at 7:13 am

    love the post and we must alway remember those who enlightened the nation to respond…..we are still not where we should be….however a long way from where we were……considered mental illness until 1973. love the post…simply clayton

    Reply

    • Clayton,

      Thank you very much and thank you for all that you do for the community.

      If I can accomplish one-half of what you do (and have done) for us in my lifetime, I will be very pleased.

      With people like you, me, all of our LGBT brothers and sisters, and all of our straight alliances, we’ll get there one day. It’s been a long road traveled and there many more miles to go.

      Thank you and take care, my friend!

      Anthony

      Reply

  3. […] Click here:  https://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/push-comes-to-shove-43-years-ago-the-stonewall-rio… […]

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