The Struggle Continues
“The Struggle Continues”:
Pride Fest 2019 Marks the 50 Year Anniversary of The Stonewall Riots 1969-2019
An Essay by Tessa Wrecked
As we’re gearing up towards the 50th anniversary of Pride Fest in 2019, it’s important to remember the radical history of this gathering. Many people don’t know that the first Pride Fest was a series of riots that took place in and around The Stonewall Inn, a gritty dive bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. While 2019’s Pride Fest may be the perfect safe place where you can wear your rainbow unicorn dildo helmet in peace, it’s important to remember that we haven’t always had it so good. Let’s look back on previous Pride Festivals that helped push queer rights to the forefront of the American political conversation. During these tense political times, it’s crucial to remember that the first Pride Fest was a riot.
In the mid-1960s, gay bars were one of the only places that gay and lesbian people could meet in public and feel relatively safe. Gay bars were usually owned by straight men or the mob, who had more of an interest in profiting off the gay community than fighting to expand their rights. Gay bars were often subjected to police raids, since many states had anti-gay laws that criminalized homosexuals. “Straight” bars were not supposed to sell liquor to “known homosexuals”. However, the raids mainly targeted trans individuals—New York law at the time stated that individuals must be wearing at least 3 gender-appropriate articles of clothing while in public. Some activist groups, such as the Mattachine, ONE, Inc. and Daughters of Bilitis, organized events known as “sip-ins” where protesters would order alcoholic drinks in straight bars, then announce that they were homosexual. This lead to the exposure of discriminatory laws. Many activists got arrested and used the opportunity to sue the State Liquor Authority.
These early protests were still very gender normative, however—women would wear dresses and stockings, men would wear suits, and public displays of gay affection were typically forbidden by protestors who wanted their movement to “fit in”. Riots that happened at the Stonewall Inn were markedly different. On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall with no prior warning. A crowd began forming as people who were cross-dressed or people who didn’t have ID’s on them were arrested. These types of arrests were a typical event that the gay community faced every time they organized in public. But for some reason, the crowd did not disperse cooperatively and move along. People were fed up with police harassment. They began breaking bottles, rocking the police cars and chanting slurs at the cops such as, “Pigs!” “Faggot cops!” and “Gay power, gay pride!” One particularly tough queen bashed an officer in the head with her high heel. She grabbed the cops’ keys, freeing herself and other comrades from their handcuffs. The crowd transformed into a mob, throwing everything possible at the police: bricks, bottles, coins, garbage cans, and even dog feces.
The police, who had underestimated the power of a bunch of weak little fags and queers, only sent out eight officers to deal with the riot. The police ended up barricading themselves in the bar, threatening to shoot and kill anyone who came through the bar. Finally, riot police came, beating the crowd into submission with clubs and tear gas canisters. The mob decentralized, but did not disperse. A group of people began to kick their high heels in the air, Rockettes’ style, chanting and singing:
“We are the Stonewall Girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear no underwear
We show our pubic hair…
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!”
The night ended with several citizens being beaten and injured. Four cops were injured, and thirteen protestors were arrested. However, this historical night at the Stonewall Inn changed the idea of queer resistance in America. The following day, June 29th, 1969, another group had formed at the Stonewall Inn. This large group blocked Christopher street and refused to allow any traffic through. Some militant and flamboyant queens jumped on top of cars, and through the windshields of people attempting to drive through the crowd. There were riots on the 3rd night as well.
The Stonewall Riots were a turning point in queer activism, visibility and persona. This movement especially brought visibility to transsexual, transvestite and transgendered individuals, homeless youth, sex workers and other LGBTQIA people who had previously been left out of the movement. Weeks after the riots, in July of 1969, queer activists met in New York City and formed the Gay Liberation Front. This movement was intersectional, with public connections to the women’s liberation movement, the anti-war protests, Black Power groups and showed solidarity with other groups as well. Other more radical gay activists split off from the GLF to form Radicalesbians, the Gay Activists Alliance, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) and more. These groups organized sit-ins, direct action and civil disobedience.
Our society has come a long way in the past 50 years. Pride Fest is a good way to mark the mainstream acceptance (or at least tolerance) of queer visibility and celebration. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pride Fest and the Stonewall Riots, it’s important to have a fun and safe time. But it’s also empowering to carry the strength of American protestors past and present in our hearts, remembering all that still needs to be done to build a vibrant and inclusive future for queer citizens worldwide.
Stonewall by Martin Dubermin
Queer Theory: An Introduction by Annamarie Jagose
Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation by Karla Jay and Allen Young
“Stonewall Was A Riot” –from Guide Magazine by Michael Bronski
Militant Flamboyance: A Brief History of the Stonewall Riots and Other Queer Happenings zine written by Heath Schultz and Brad Thomson 2009 –available from crimethinc.org ‘s free archives