From the Archives: Stonewall
An Essay by Chapin Langenheim
It’s a peaceful night at the Stonewall Inn. It’s as quiet as any bar would be at 1:20 AM on a Saturday in June with two hundred people in the bar. People are chattering with the bartenders, who themselves are calm because they haven’t been tipped off by the police that a raid would be happening that night. These raids were pretty usual these days, but it isn’t going to happen tonight, so everything is relaxed. People sip their liquor and chat with their friends, wearing clothes they could be arrested for if they wore them outside of the bar. Everything is running as planned.
But at 1:20 AM, four plainclothes policemen, two patrolmen in uniform, a detective, and a deputy inspector walk through the door. They shout, “Police! We’re taking the place!” People start to panic and run for the doors, but the police barricade them. Usually, there would be a line set up for people’s identification cards to be checked. Usually, female officers would take customers dressed as females to the bathroom to check that they were, in fact, biologically female, and arrest people who weren’t. But for the first time, people begin to refuse to surrender their IDs. People do not go to the bathrooms to be inspected. The police begin to frisk people, feeling up the lesbians as they go. A sense of discomfort spreads through the crowd, rippling through people’s feet and making them shuffle around, whispering to each other in hushed, murmured tones.
Meanwhile, a crowd grows outside the bar as people who have not been arrested tell passersby what is going on. One of those people shouts “Gay power!” at the police. People begin to sing “We Shall Overcome”, and it feels okay, for a second. But the whispers rush out from inside the bar to the crowd standing outside, and as a transvestite hits a policeman over the head with her purse for shoving her, the crowd begins to get angry.
A woman breaks free from the police as they try to arrest her. She struggles with four of the policemen, one of whom hits her with his baton as she complains that her handcuffs are too tight. She shouts, “Why don’t you guys do something?” And the crowd goes wild.
The violence and protesting goes on for a few more days.
Remember a similar event? Remember when police beat up people because they were straight? Remember how many people died because they weren’t gay? Remember that? No? Cool. Because it never happened. There has never been violence towards straight people because of their sexuality. No one has been killed because they were heterosexual. It never happens. It’s not a thing. Meanwhile, the death toll in the LGBTQIA community rises day to day if not because of actual hands on murder by, oddly enough, straight people, then by suicide because of the words of straight people. The Stonewall Riots was the first time LGBTQIA people stood up for themselves to such a large degree. This sparked activism all around the world to support the LGBTQIA community. The Stonewall Riots changed things. And it happened during the last weeks of June, when we now have Pride Parades. It’s not a coincidence. We hold Pride Parades to remember those who were hurt and killed, both at Stonewall and since the beginning of time, because they were not straight. We hold Pride Parades to celebrate what Stonewall gave us. We hold Pride Parades to celebrate our freedom.
Whereas straight people want a Heterosexual Pride Day. Whereas today is supposed to be that day. But can you honestly tell me what you are celebrating? Can you inform me of the riots you are commemorating? Can you tell me about the straight lives that have been lost that you are memorializing? Tell me. I want to know. I want to know about your great suffering. Because maybe then you’d see we have so much in common, and you don’t need to persecute us anymore.