Today, June 1st starts Pride Month! It is a time for LGBT+ people to express their pride and remember their predecessor that fought for their freedoms a little over 50 years ago.
If you’ve been around for a bit then you know that I’m bi and I’m very proud. I take a lot of pride in who I am and I work to teach people about the LGBT+ community and about inclusion. I also strive to educate those on casual homophobia, on not using the f-slur and not using “gay” as an insult. Those words hurt and they stick with people for years. One thing I talk about a lot is LGBT+ people who were activists during their lifetime. I owe these people so much for all they have done for me and my fellow queers.
So for this Pride Month, I want to tell you about LGBT+ activists and icons. I have a list of 30 LGBT+ activists from all over the globe and I am going to share their stories here. One a day for every day of Pride month.
(And this is going to go a lot better than Women’s History Month)
Now before we get into the people, I want to tell you one of, if not the most, important event of the LGBT Rights Movement. This is a story about the Stonewall Inn. But first, let’s jump into the time machine and head back to the late ’60s in New York City, New York.
The ’50s and ’60s in America were a rough place for anyone who wasn’t rich, white, and/or straight
(sound familiar?). For LGBT+ people at the time, it was a constant life of looking over your shoulder. The FBI was tracking known LGBT+ people: noting their favorite places, closest friends, what they got in the mail, and their addresses. The government shut down any bars and establishments that catered to LGBT people, they raided neighborhoods and public places, made wearing “opposite gender clothes” illegal. LGBT+ people were seen as mentally ill and often medicated to “fix them” which we all know is complete horseshit and destructive. So life at the time was severely stressful.
As for what establishments could remain open, those became safe havens for queer people to congregate together. The Stonewall Inn was one of those places. Settled at 51 & 53 Christopher Street, right across from Christopher Park. Stonewall was actually owned by the Mafia, they paid $3,500 for the Inn to be turned into a gay bar. The Stonewall Inn was one of those bars that are a disaster but you love it anyway, much like my love with the shitty local Dennys. Stonewall had overflowing toilets, no running water behind the bar, and no fire exits but it did allow dancing – the only bar to. Sadly the downside was the police raids. As I mentioned before, the police were raiding everywhere for gay people – beaches, homes, universities – you name it. If it was there, they were dragging people (gay people, drag queens, and even staff) out in handcuffs. Stonewall was the same. They dealt with frequent raids but had tipoffs most of the time from paid police.
But Saturday, June 28th, 1969, the people said ENOUGH.
That night, the police once again raided Stonewall but this time, there was no warning. At 1:20AM, police began their raid, lining up patrons and demanding their ID cards. This time, some patrons refused. Those in drag refused to go into the bathrooms where a female officer was to “verify their sex”. As the police began to throw some people out of the bar, they didn’t leave. They stayed outside Stonewall and watched as others were being thrown out. The rumor was that the police were beating the people still in the bar. A crowd of about 150 people stood outside Stonewall, the air grew tense as police continued arresting their fellow queers. A woman, some of which have identified her as Storme DeLarverie, was handcuffed, being pulled from the bar, and said her handcuffs were too tight. To answer that, a cop hit her on the back of the head with a baton. She then turned to the watching crowed ad said “Why don’t you guys do something?” The cop picked her up and threw her in the back of the police van. From there, the revolution began.
The crowd began to fight back. People threw bottles and bricks from a nearby construction site, and when people heard a rumor that the cops raided because they weren’t paid off, they started throwing coins. The people fought for their home, for their safe haven. According to a witness, Michael Fader, this was the feeling:
We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration… Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us. (x)
The people fought while the police retreated into Stonewall and barricaded themselves. A Tactical Police Force showed up and tried forming a phalanx but they were met with a kick line of gay people chanting “We are the Stonewall girls/ We wear our hair in curls/ We don’t wear underwear/ We show our pubic hair.” (A fucking bop). The police pushed the kickline out and chased some people. But the chasing went the other way as well, angry protestors chased the cops.
By 4AM, the street was clear. The inside of the Stonewall Inn was destroyed, most likely intended so by police. Outside, some remained sitting on stoops or in the park. Once recalled:
“There was a certain beauty in the aftermath of the riot… It was obvious, at least to me, that a lot of people really were gay and, you know, this was our street.” (x)
The next day (Sunday, June 29th), people visited Stonewall. Some wrote “gay power” and “legalize gay bars” on the outside of the bar but one thing remained- The Inn was open. Meanwhile, Craig Rodwell called for gay people to stand up and open their own bars- not keep feeding the mafia money. That night, thousands of people gathered outside Stonewall- some had returned from the last night, some were bystanders, and some were even tourists. The second night of protesting and rioting began. Marsha P. Johnson climbed a light pole and dropped a heavy bag into a police car, shattering the windshield. Garbage cans were set ablaze, kicklines were formed once more. The riots blazed on and on until about 4 AM.
The rioting and protesting didn’t stop there. After the main events of Stonewall, the real Revolution began to take form. The Gay Liberation front took form not long after, there were protests, rallies, and (sadly) more violence. This was how our fight for our rights was sparked into a wildfire. People around the country came out and stood up.
Now, once a year, we come together for a parade to celebrate our freedom and remember those who fought for it. Although we can’t physically be in the same place because of a pandemic, the parade lives on. I’m probably going to host a one-car parade for my friends. This month, on Ham Sports, join me as I tell you some of the people who have worked tooth and nail for LGBT people to have some of the rights they have today. For now, go out and be proud.
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Featured Image: Larry C. Morris/The New York Times/Redux