Civil Rights Movement: The Stonewall Riots

Yesterday I asked you to join in a protest that’s still taking place – today I’d like to bring you some hope in the form of a protest that already succeeded!

– J

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Every January we all take a day to honor the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., in classrooms around the world people speak of Gandhi and his accomplishments, Rosa Parks’ recent passing was mentioned and mourned worldwide. Rosa parks, Gandhi, MLK… we all know their names and what they did for Civil Rights, but while they were fantastic people who did fantastic things they weren’t the only ones. In the upcoming months I’d like to take a look at lesser known Civil Rights struggles worldwide so we can all be more aware of the great things that are being done for tolerance, as well as the movements that still need support and recognition.

To kick off this series I am bringing you I’ll Follow the Sun’s first ever guest post, from my fantastic boyfriend Travis, on the Stonewall Riots.

stonewall_riots

The image that ran appeared on the front page of The New York Daily News following the riots, showing the “street kids” who were the first to fight with the police.

WHAT HAPPENED?

This June marks the fortieth anniversary of the historic Stonewall Riots, a series of violent acts of retaliation towards the New York City Police Department by the gay community. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 several police officers, not wearing their uniforms, burst into the Stonewall Inn (a noted hangout for the homosexual community) and announced that they were taking the bar. This sort of raid was not uncommon for the time, as it was still completely legal for the police to persecute and even arrest some people found in known gay bars. However, this night was to be the “last straw” for New York’s gay community: the bar’s patrons refused to cooperate with the police and those who were not arrested began to form a crowd outside of the bar. All hell broke loose when a police officer beat a woman over the head with a nightstick for allegedly complaining that her handcuffs were too tight. She asked the now hundreds of people congregated outside why they didn’t do anything, at which point the crowd went berserk and physically retaliated against the police in addition to attempting to burn down the bar, which was still filled with police officers.

WHAT WAS ACCOMPLISHED?

After the riots subsided, a myriad of effects could be seen, the most important of which were the forming of the Gay Liberation Front and the first Gay Pride march in United States history. The Stonewall Riots helped to fuel the fight for gay rights that flourished in the 1970s with notable figures such as Harvey Milk; indeed, historian Lillian Faderman calls the riots, “An emblem of gay and lesbian power. By calling on the dramatic tactic of violent protest that was being used by other oppressed groups, the events at the Stonewall implied that homosexuals had as much reason to be disaffected as they.” The riot served as a catalyst to begin the widespread push for equal rights for all gay individuals, much like Brown vs. Board of Education and Rosa Parks did for the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

stonewall

Although this blog does not approve of the use of violence to achieve one’s goals, the Stonewall Riots are an important reminder of the necessity of continuing to fight for gay rights. These riots marked one of the first major cases in which gays and lesbians fought back against the legal police brutality that was ravaging their communities; in the aftermath of these altercations sprang up several significant gay rights groups that helped further the fight for gay rights that still exists today. In light of the recent anti-gay measures passed such as California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, and Arkansas’s Act 1, which prevents all unmarried couples from adopting, continuing to fight for gay rights is more important than ever; we cannot rest until the homosexual community is granted the same rights as heterosexuals; in the words of activist Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

2 thoughts on “Civil Rights Movement: The Stonewall Riots

  1. Hi

    I love the photos on your site of Stonewall. I am working for OutHistory.org and we are building a site that will discuss Stonewall and it is a Wiki for people to post. I was wondering if I can get permission to use the photos from your site for the Stonewall homepage. I can give credit and such but they are great and would enhance out site.

    Thanks

    Cecelia

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