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What Happened at the Stonewall Riots? A Timeline of the 1969 Uprising

What Happened at the Stonewall Riots? A Timeline of the 1969 Uprising



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On a hot summer night in 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village that served as a haven for the city’s gay, lesbian and transgender community.

At the time, homosexual acts remained illegal in every state except Illinois, and bars and restaurants could get shut down for having gay employees or serving gay patrons. Most gay bars and clubs in New York at the time (including the Stonewall) were operated by the Mafia, who paid corruptible police officers to look the other way and blackmailed wealthy gay patrons by threatening to “out” them.

Police raids on gay bars were common, but on that particular night, members of the city’s LGBT community decided to fight back—sparking an uprising that would launch a new era of resistance and revolution.













June 24, 1969: Police arrest Stonewall employees, confiscate alcohol.

On the Tuesday before the riots began, police conducted an evening raid on the Stonewall, arresting some of its employees and confiscating its stash of illegal liquor. As with many similar raids, the police targeted the bar for operating without a proper liquor license.

After the raid, the NYPD planned a second raid for the following Friday, which they hoped would shut down the bar for good.

June 27-28, 1969: Stonewall crowd erupts after police arrest and rough up patrons.

After midnight on an unseasonably hot Friday night, the Stonewall was packed when eight plainclothes or undercover police officers (six men and two women) entered the bar. In addition to the bar’s employees, they also singled out drag queens and other cross-dressing patrons for arrest. In New York City, “masquerading” as a member of the opposite sex was a crime.

READ MORE: How Dressing in Drag Was Once Labeled as a Crime

More NYPD officers arrived on foot and in three patrol cars. Meanwhile, bar patrons who had been released joined the crowds of onlookers that were forming outside the Stonewall. A police van, commonly known as a paddy wagon, arrived, and police began loading Stonewall employees and cross-dressers inside.

Early hours of June 28, 1969: Transgender women resist arrest. Bottles are thrown at police.

Accounts vary over exactly what kicked off the riots, but according to witness reports, the crowd erupted after police roughed up a woman dressed in masculine attire (some believe the woman was lesbian activist Stormé DeLarverie) who had complained that her handcuffs were too tight. People started taunting the officers, yelling “Pigs!” and “Copper!” and throwing pennies at them, followed by bottles; some in the crowd slashed the tires of the police vehicles.

According to David Carter, historian and author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, the “hierarchy of resistance” in the riots began with the homeless or “street” kids, those young gay men who viewed the Stonewall as the only safe place in their lives.

Two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were said to have resisted arrest and thrown the first bottle (or brick or stone) at the cops, respectively. Although Johnson later said in a 1987 podcast interview with historian Eric Marcus that she had not arrived until the uprising was well underway.

The exact breakdown of who did what first remains unclear—in part because this was long before the smartphone era and there was minimal documentation of the night's events.

Close to 4 a.m. June 28, 1969: Police retreat and barricade themselves inside Stonewall.

As the paddy wagon and squad cars left to drop the prisoners off at the nearby Sixth Precinct, the growing mob forced the original NYPD raiding party to retreat into the Stonewall itself and barricade themselves inside.

Some rioters used a parking meter as a battering ram to break through the door; others threw beer bottles, trash and other objects, or made impromptu firebombs with bottles, matches and lighter fluid.

Sirens announced the arrival of more police officers, as well as squadrons of the Tactical Patrol Force (TPF), the city’s riot police. As the helmeted officers marched in formation down Christopher Street, protesters outsmarted them by running away, then circling the short blocks of the Village and coming back up behind the officers.

Finally, sometime after 4 a.m., things settled down. Amazingly, no one died or was critically injured on the first night of rioting, though a few police officers reported injuries.

READ MORE: The Tragic Love Stories Behind the Supreme Court's Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Rulings

June 28-29: Stonewall reopens, supporters gather. Police beat and tear gas crowd.

Despite having been torn apart by the cops, the Stonewall Inn opened before dark the next night (though it wasn’t serving alcohol). More and more supporters showed up, chanting slogans like “gay power” and “we shall overcome.”

Again the police were called out to restore order, including an even larger group of TPF officers, who beat and tear gassed members of the crowd. This continued until the early hours of the morning, when the crowd dispersed.

June 29-July 1, 1969: Stonewall becomes gathering point for LGBT activists.

Over the next several nights, gay activists continued to gather near the Stonewall, taking advantage of the moment to spread information and build the community that would fuel the growth of the gay rights movement. Though police officers also returned, the mood was less confrontational, with isolated skirmishes replacing the large-scale riots of the weekend.

July 2, 1969: Gay activists protest newspaper coverage.

In response to the Village Voice’s coverage of the riots, which referred to “the forces of faggotry,” protesters swarmed outside the paper’s offices. Some called for burning the building down. When the police pushed back, rioting started again, but lasted only a short time, concluding by midnight.

The New York Daily News also resorted to homophobic slurs in its detailed coverage, running the headline: “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.” Meanwhile, the New York Times wrote only sparingly of the whole event, printing a short article on page 22 on June 30 titled “Police Again Rout ‘Village’ Youths.”

The lasting impact of the Stonewall Riots.

With Stonewall, the spirit of ‘60s rebellion spread to LGBT people in New York and beyond, who for the first time found themselves part of a community. Though the gay rights movement didn’t begin at Stonewall, the uprising did mark a turning point, as earlier “homophile” organizations like the Mattachine Society gave way to more radical groups like the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA).

June 28, 1970: First Gay Pride parade sets off from Stonewall.

On the first anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, gay activists in New York organized the Christopher Street Liberation March to cap off the city’s first Gay Pride Week. As several hundred people began marching up 6th Avenue toward Central Park, supporters from the crowd joined them. The procession eventually stretched some 15 city blocks, encompassing thousands of people.

Inspired by New York’s example, activists in other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, organized gay pride celebrations that same year. The frenzy of activism born on that first night at Stonewall would eventually fuel gay rights movements in Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, among other countries, becoming a lasting force that would carry on for the next half-century—and beyond.

READ MORE: How Activists Plotted the First Gay Pride Parades

WATCH: Fight the Power: The Movements that Changed America, premieres Saturday, June 19 at 8/7c on The HISTORY® Channel.


June 28, 1969 marks the beginning of the Stonewall Uprising, a series of events between police and LGBTQ+ protesters which stretched over six days. It was not the first time police raided a gay bar, and it was not the first time LGBTQ+ people fought back, but the events that would unfold over the next six days would fundamentally change the discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ activism in the United States. While Stonewall became well known due to the media coverage and the subsequent annual Pride traditions, it was a culmination of years of LGBTQ+ activism. Historians have noted that the shift in activism, if Stonewall truly represented one at all, was a shift primarily for white cisgender people, as people of color and gender non-confroming people never truly had the benefit of concealing their marginalized identities.

While the events of Stonewall are often referred to as "riots," Stonewall veterans have explicitly stated that they prefer the term Stonewall uprising or rebellion. The reference to these events as riots was initially used by police to justify their use of force. Early publications show that the LGBTQIA+ community largely did not use the term riot until years after the fact.

"The rebellion (it was never a 'riot') lasted five inconsecutive nights (they were not 'riots'). " -STONEWALL Veterans' Association

STONEWALL Club in New York City with
routine and dangerous N.Y.C. police raids and/or participants in the historic 1969
Stonewall Rebellion!


The riots at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 were not the first time LGBTQ people protested for their rights, but it did mark a turning point in the activist movement that led to future successes.

In the decade prior to the Stonewall uprising, the LGBTQ movement attained heightened public visibility and was boosted by an environment full of other social movements that intersected with LGBTQ rights, including the Black power movement, second-wave feminism, and Vietnam war protests.

In 1950, the gay rights movement in the US officially organized with the founding of the Mattachine Society in LA, and groups for LGBTQ people – who at that time were broadly referred to as gay people — sprung up in other cities.

There were also multiple public confrontations between the LGBTQ community and police forces, including at Cooper Do-Nuts in LA in 1959, at a fundraiser for the Council on Religion and the Homosexual in San Francisco in 1965, and at the Black Cat Tavern in LA in 1967.


A look at the history

Though their methods may not have been as radical, early so-called homophile organizations — including the Mattachine Society, Janus Society, and Daughters of Bilitis — set the stage for what followed, says Timothy Patrick McCarthy, a lecturer in public policy and core faculty at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

“The foundation for the movement that emerges in fuller form in the wake of Stonewall was laid in the decades before in public and private battles, in different organizations, and through the work of many people,” said McCarthy, whose book, “Stonewall’s Children: Living Queer History in an Age of Liberation, Loss, and Love,” will be published by The New Press next year.

Many such groups materialized during World War II and the post-war era in response to the military’s anti-homosexual policies and the paranoid frenzy of the Red Scare. McCarthy points to the “Lavender Scare,” a fear campaign that paralleled Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into what he considered widespread subversive forces at work in the federal government in the 1950s. While simultaneously trying to expose suspected communists, the Wisconsin senator also targeted suspected homosexuals, arguing that “deviant sexual behavior, like deviant political ideology, were things that made people more vulnerable to blackmailing,” said the Harvard scholar, who recently edited a special issue of The Nation examining Stonewall’s legacy.


What Happened at the Stonewall Riots? A Timeline of the 1969 Uprising

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On June 28, 1969, police carried out an early morning raid on the Stonewall Bar in Greenwich Village, NY about 400 to 1,000 patrons riot against police, it lasts three days. From the article:

"What Happened at the Stonewall Riots? A Timeline of the 1969 Uprising
Larry C. Morris/The New York T​imes/Redux

The June 1969 riots at New York City's Stonewall Inn marked a raucous turning point in the fight for LGBT rights.
On a hot summer night in 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village that served as a haven for the city’s gay, lesbian and transgender community.

At the time, homosexual acts remained illegal in every state except Illinois, and bars and restaurants could get shut down for having gay employees or serving gay patrons. Most gay bars and clubs in New York at the time (including the Stonewall) were operated by the Mafia, who paid corruptible police officers to look the other way and blackmailed wealthy gay patrons by threatening to “out” them.

Police raids on gay bars were common, but on that particular night, members of the city’s LGBT community decided to fight back—sparking an uprising that would launch a new era of resistance and revolution.

June 24, 1969: Police arrest Stonewall employees, confiscate alcohol.

On the Tuesday before the riots began, police conducted an evening raid on the Stonewall, arresting some of its employees and confiscating its stash of illegal liquor. As with many similar raids, the police targeted the bar for operating without a proper liquor license.

After the raid, the NYPD planned a second raid for the following Friday, which they hoped would shut down the bar for good.

June 27-28, 1969: Stonewall crowd erupts after police arrest and rough up patrons.

After midnight on an unseasonably hot Friday night, the Stonewall was packed when eight plainclothes or undercover police officers (six men and two women) entered the bar. In addition to the bar’s employees, they also singled out drag queens and other cross-dressing patrons for arrest. In New York City, “masquerading” as a member of the opposite sex was a crime.

More NYPD officers arrived on foot and in three patrol cars. Meanwhile, bar patrons who had been released joined the crowds of onlookers that were forming outside the Stonewall. A police van, commonly known as a paddy wagon, arrived, and police began loading Stonewall employees and cross-dressers inside.

Early hours of June 28, 1969: Transgender women resist arrest. Bottles are thrown at police.

Accounts vary over exactly what kicked off the riots, but according to witness reports, the crowd erupted after police roughed up a woman dressed in masculine attire (some believe the woman was lesbian activist Stormé DeLarverie) who had complained that her handcuffs were too tight. People started taunting the officers, yelling “Pigs!” and “Copper!” and throwing pennies at them, followed by bottles some in the crowd slashed the tires of the police vehicles.

According to David Carter, historian and author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, the “hierarchy of resistance” in the riots began with the homeless or “street” kids, those young gay men who viewed the Stonewall as the only safe place in their lives.

Two transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were said to have resisted arrest and thrown the first bottle (or brick or stone) at the cops, respectively. Although Johnson later said in a 1987 podcast interview with historian Eric Marcus that she had not arrived until the uprising was well underway.

The exact breakdown of who did what first remains unclear—in part because this was long before the smartphone era and there was minimal documentation of the night's events.

Close to 4 a.m. June 28, 1969: Police retreat and barricade themselves inside Stonewall.

As the paddy wagon and squad cars left to drop the prisoners off at the nearby Sixth Precinct, the growing mob forced the original NYPD raiding party to retreat into the Stonewall itself and barricade themselves inside.

Some rioters used a parking meter as a battering ram to break through the door others threw beer bottles, trash and other objects, or made impromptu firebombs with bottles, matches and lighter fluid.

Sirens announced the arrival of more police officers, as well as squadrons of the Tactical Patrol Force (TPF), the city’s riot police. As the helmeted officers marched in formation down Christopher Street, protesters outsmarted them by running away, then circling the short blocks of the Village and coming back up behind the officers.

Finally, sometime after 4 a.m., things settled down. Amazingly, no one died or was critically injured on the first night of rioting, though a few police officers reported injuries.

June 28-29: Stonewall reopens, supporters gather. Police beat and tear gas crowd.

Despite having been torn apart by the cops, the Stonewall Inn opened before dark the next night (though it wasn’t serving alcohol). More and more supporters showed up, chanting slogans like “gay power” and “we shall overcome.”

Again the police were called out to restore order, including an even larger group of TPF officers, who beat and tear gassed members of the crowd. This continued until the early hours of the morning, when the crowd dispersed.

June 29-July 1, 1969: Stonewall becomes gathering point for LGBT activists.

Over the next several nights, gay activists continued to gather near the Stonewall, taking advantage of the moment to spread information and build the community that would fuel the growth of the gay rights movement. Though police officers also returned, the mood was less confrontational, with isolated skirmishes replacing the large-scale riots of the weekend.

July 2, 1969: Gay activists protest newspaper coverage.

In response to the Village Voice’s coverage of the riots, which referred to “the forces of faggotry,” protesters swarmed outside the paper’s offices. Some called for burning the building down. When the police pushed back, rioting started again, but lasted only a short time, concluding by midnight.

The New York Daily News also resorted to homophobic slurs in its detailed coverage, running the headline: “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.” Meanwhile, the New York Times wrote only sparingly of the whole event, printing a short article on page 22 on June 30 titled “Police Again Rout ‘Village’ Youths.”

The lasting impact of the Stonewall Riots.

With Stonewall, the spirit of ‘60s rebellion spread to LGBT people in New York and beyond, who for the first time found themselves part of a community. Though the gay rights movement didn’t begin at Stonewall, the uprising did mark a turning point, as earlier “homophile” organizations like the Mattachine Society gave way to more radical groups like the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA).

June 28, 1970: First Gay Pride parade sets off from Stonewall.

On the first anniversary of the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, gay activists in New York organized the Christopher Street Liberation March to cap off the city’s first Gay Pride Week. As several hundred people began marching up 6th Avenue toward Central Park, supporters from the crowd joined them. The procession eventually stretched some 15 city blocks, encompassing thousands of people.

Inspired by New York’s example, activists in other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago, organized gay pride celebrations that same year. The frenzy of activism born on that first night at Stonewall would eventually fuel gay rights movements in Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, among other countries, becoming a lasting force that would carry on for the next half-century—and beyond."


How Stonewall Changed the World

Today, Pride is a cherished tradition. Annual parades are a fixture in major cities, the happy celebrations bringing together both the LGBTQ+ community and straight allies alike. And yet, it has its roots in far darker times, with the first marches held to commemorate one night in 1969 which saw an impromptu army of the oppressed clashing with police in New York City.

In the words of Stonewall historian David Carter, the uprising that began in the early hours of 28 June 1969 “is to the gay movement what the fall of the Bastille is to the unleashing of the French Revolution.”

The basic facts are simple enough. Not long after midnight, a group of police officers conducted a raid on the Stonewall Inn. Gay venues in the city were routinely harassed by the authorities – partly because of the culturally-ingrained homophobia, and partly because most such venues, including the Stonewall Inn, were actually owned and operated by the Mafia, who ruthlessly exploited the vulnerability of the LGBTQ+ community. The police officer who led the Stonewall raid later revealed another reason for the endless trouble they gave the gay people of New York. It was, he said, a way to bump up their arrest numbers. “They were easy arrests. They never gave you any trouble. At least until that night.”

Ramshackle and rough around the edges – it didn’t even have running water behind the bar – the Stonewall Inn was a refuge for the most marginalised people within the gay community. Kids who had run away from homophobic home towns, drag queens and street hustlers congregated there. As early gay activist Dick Leitsch said, “This club was more than a dance bar, more than just a gay gathering place. It catered largely to a group of people who are not welcome in, or cannot afford, other places of homosexual social gathering.”

Stonewall. "is to the gay movement what the fall of the Bastille is to the unleashing of the French Revolution."

It’s perhaps for this reason that the raid went so badly for the police. Angered by the intrusion of the police in what was considered a particularly inclusive space, even compared to other gay venues, the punters refused to submit to invasive body searches. Then, as word spread, more and more people began to gather outside, united in outrage. Somehow, things escalated from a tense stand-off to an all-out street riot.


The exact reason for this is still hazy. The key figure is widely agreed to have been a woman, who was handcuffed and roughly shoved into a police wagon in front of the angry crowd. The woman reportedly yelled at the crowd to “do something”, and do something they certainly did. Rocks and bricks were thrown, windows were smashed, a parking meter was torn from the street and used as a battering ram.

As Mama Jean, a gay woman caught up in the riot, later recalled: “I remember one cop coming at me, hitting me with the nightstick on the back of my legs. I broke loose, and I went after him. I grabbed his nightstick. My girlfriend went behind him. She was a strong son of a gun. I wanted him to feel the same pain I felt… I kept on hitting him and hitting him. I was angry. I wanted to kill him. At that particular minute, I wanted to kill him.”

Things took a surreal turn when some of the rioters formed a Broadway-style kick line, singing merrily “We are the Stonewall girls” and mocking the cops. The whole skirmish lasted hours, and would be repeated on the following nights.

So who was the person in handcuffs whose protestation apparently triggered the uprising? Many say it was a gay woman called Stormé DeLarverie – a charismatic singer who later became known for strutting around New York, armed with a gun, to protect lesbians from harassment. As a friend later put it, “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero.”

The fact she was a woman, and mixed-race too, has helped spur accusations that the standard narrative of Stonewall is too white and male-centric, and sidelines the significance of gay women as well as transgender people like Marsha P. Johnson, a famed black drag queen who was one of the most prominent people in the uprising. Coming in for particular criticism was the 2015 movie Stonewall, by Independence Day director Roland Emmerich, which was widely slammed for showing a white, male protagonist as throwing the brick that sparked the uprising.

There’s also been controversy about the role Judy Garland’s funeral may have played in the uprising. The funeral of the Hollywood star and gay icon had taken place earlier that very day in the city, and it’s been speculated that the grief in the gay community was channelled into the fury of Stonewall. However, many have slammed this was a myth started by sneering, homophobic journalists to mock and trivialise the uprising. In the words of Gay Liberation Front member Perry Brass, “I can certainly say that, in my own youth, in that period, Garland was as far away from my mind as Uranus. Like most kids on their own in New York (I was 21 then), we were mostly centered on trying to survive in what was a much more contentious city.

That said, drag queen Sylvia Rivera later claimed there was indeed a post-funeral vibe that fed into the uprising, saying “I guess Judy Garland’s death just really helped us really hit the fan.”

While writers and eyewitnesses will always debate the details of that fateful night, what’s beyond contention is the importance of Stonewall. Gay activism did exist in the United States before then, but it was restrained and diplomatic, with well-dressed, well-behaved activists trying to convince straight society to bestow tolerance. After Stonewall, diplomacy made way for radical rebellion, with organisations like the Gay Liberation Front rising up across the States, and the first Pride marches happening soon after. The unashamed, full-on fight for equality began, and continues today, thanks to Stonewall


Learn More

  • June 28, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. To find Stonewall 50 and other LGBTQ+ events at the Library of Congress, visit loc.gov/lgbt
  • Watch documentary footage from LGBTQ+ rights pioneer Lilli Vincenz in our National Screening Room, including “Gay and Proud,” which features a rare glimpse of the first Pride march in New York City, 1970. Another film, “The Second Largest Minority,” highlights LGBTQ+ protests in Washington, D.C.
  • In 2013, President Barack Obama cited Stonewall in his Inaugural Address, marking the first time in history LGBTQ+ rights had been mentioned.
  • Read the FBI Documents on the Mattachine Society, 1950.

Was Stonewall a Riot, an Uprising or a Rebellion? Here's How the Description Has Changed—And Why It Matters

T he Stonewall Inn has become to the modern LGBT rights movement what Lexington and Concord were to the American Revolution. But while there is broad agreement that something seismic happened there one fateful night in 1969, there is little consensus on anything else &mdash including how people should talk about it. After police raided the New York City bar and sparked protest from patrons, were there riots? Was there an uprising? Was it a rebellion?

This is not just a matter for copy editors. The terminology that people use shapes how historical events are perceived, from the way they came to happen to why they matter. That’s why, for instance, some Southerners have called the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression and why some Catholic textbooks offer lessons about the Protestant Revolt rather than the Protestant Reformation. Disagreements over what to call Stonewall reflect different conceptions of what it was. &ldquoThere has been a debate about the meaning of Stonewall,” says Columbia University history professor George Chauncey, “from the very beginning.&rdquo

At TIME’s request, the Oxford English Dictionary did an analysis of the language that is most commonly used in online news sources to describe Stonewall. Today, riots is most popular, followed by uprising and more distantly by rebellion. That wasn’t always the case. Uprising has seen a surge in recent years, and the first mainstream media reports about Stonewall used different language entirely.

Back in 1969, calling Stonewall a “riot” was, in some ways, strategic. The event was disruptive and violent. When police raided the Stonewall Inn, LGBT bar patrons pushed back, throwing coins at police, liberating detainees from custody and attempting to light the bar on fire while police were still inside. Parking meters were uprooted, stones were thrown and several nights of protests, involving thousands of people, followed.

Yet compared to events that Americans in the 1960s were likely to think of when they heard the word riot, the tumult that unfolded on and around Greenwich Village’s Christopher Street was fairly tame. In the years leading up to 1969, places like the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and the city of Detroit had seen massive unrest in black communities. The deadly upheavals there left hundreds of buildings razed and hundreds injured. Thousands were arrested and the streets were calmed only after officials deployed military troops. By contrast, evidence suggests that about 20 people were arrested during the protests that followed the Stonewall raid.

That is likely why outlets like the New York Times used what today may seem like diminishing language, characterizing Stonewall as a “melee” or “near-riot” when it first happened. The gay press, by contrast, started calling Stonewall a “riot” almost immediately.

The gay rights movement was already taking inspiration from African-Americans fighting for civil rights in the 1960s, explains Marc Stein, a history professor at San Francisco State University and author of The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History. “What better way to say &lsquowe too matter and we too can revolt&rsquo&rdquo than by embracing the language that was being used to describe their profound discontent? That word and its fiery undertones also ran counter to the stereotype that LGBT people were effeminate and ashamed, too weak and too unwilling to resist.

“All of that made the word riot distinctly attractive,” Stein says. But, over the ensuing decades &mdash as that term lost some of the proud patina it carried in a time defined by anti-war protests, radical feminism and black power &mdash that would change.

These days, while the word riot may call to mind important historical events, it also conjures plenty of negative images &mdash like football fans setting cars on fire after their team wins the Super Bowl, senseless destruction that is wrought by an aimless, irrational mob.

So some people have eschewed that word in favor of alternatives with more respectable undertones. The word rebellion, for example, suggests organization and more purposeful resistance to systemic oppression. As does revolt. And the word uprising has even more positive connotations it can describe a popular groundswell that is advancing and forcing the world to recognize it exists. As people have increasingly used such terms to describe Stonewall &mdash as well as the upheavals that happened in places like Detroit and Watts &mdash they have analogized them to a different set of events, like the uprising in Egypt that propelled the Arab Spring or Nat Turner’s famous slave rebellion.

Michael Bronski, a professor who specializes in gender and sexuality studies at Harvard, says that when he teaches students about Stonewall, he uses the word insurrection. Some people like the word riot because it suggests “something that has been unleashed,” he says. But he feels as if that word also deprives the event of political consciousness. Even if the gay and transgender revelers who showed up at the Stonewall Inn that night had no intention of launching a movement, what happened was “of course” political. “They were completely oppressed as a group of people,” Bronski says.

It’s easier to argue that a word like rebellion or insurrection applies having seen what came in the 50 years since. The events at Stonewall didn’t start the fight for LGBT rights but they did supercharge it, inspiring groups to organize around the country. The outbursts that night were specifically about the harassment of LGBT people by police in New York City, but that energy was translated into infrastructure that eventually led to dramatic shifts in Americans’ attitudes toward LGBT people and overhauls of government policy in areas ranging from marriage to the military.

According to Jonathan Dent, a lexicographer at the OED, uprising became more popular in the wake of the documentary Stonewall Uprising, which was released in 2010. Yet that doesn’t fully account for how widely it’s been embraced. Essentially absent from media clips in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s now used liberally. Another boost seems to have come from President Obama using that term when he proclaimed the Stonewall Inn to be a national monument in 2016. On top of that, Dent says, uprising is generally associated with more upbeat outcomes than rebellion an uprising tends to “inspire” overthrows and “reshape” status quos while rebellions are often “put down” and “splintered.”

To many supporters of the movement, it simply sounds good. Columbia’s Chauncey says uprising today connotes what riot did for many in the late 1960s: &ldquoan expression of community rage at the way they were being treated and their refusal to abide by it anymore.&rdquo

Still, there remains a camp that feels strongly that Stonewall should remain a riot. The event is commemorated in annual LGBT pride marches across the country each year, and some attendees have started expressing that sentiment on T-shirts. One could read the slogan “Stonewall was a riot” as a cheeky insistence that it was fun, but it’s also linked to more serious disagreements about what Stonewall was and what it has become.

&ldquoIs it about street protests, embodied direct action, fighting against police violence and capitalist exploitation? And in all those ways, is there something radical at the heart of what happened?&rdquo says Stein, the author of The Stonewall Riots. Or has Stonewall become a friendly catchall like the rainbow flag, symbolizing a more respectable, palatable push for equality? For him, calling it a riot “situates what happened within the more radical tradition.” It was a chaotic, unplanned event, he says, and for better or worse, that’s what made it more memorable than all the peaceful protests that had come before it.

The distance between words like riot and uprising reflects other discord that has surrounded Stonewall over the years. There is ongoing debate about whether the role of transgender people and people of color has been minimized while the narrative of resistance they set in motion has benefited white gay men, and about whether pride marches have become too corporate.

OED’s Dent sees a movement among LGBT people to “reclaim” the word riot, likening it to the viral exhortation to “BE GAY DO CRIMES.” This makes sense, in part, because the stereotypes that made that kind of rhetoric appealing in the 1960s &mdash that LGBT people are weak or passive &mdash persist to this day. (Groups like African Americans may feel more strongly about staying away from riot as they “continue to confront racist ideas about black rage and black violence,” Stein says.)

There remains no universal agreement about which word is most correct or most strategic. And that’s fine, historians say. The key takeaway 50 years after the events at Stonewall is that whatever took place there provided uncanny power to fuel an ongoing LGBT rights movement, no matter what people want to call it.


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Transcript

Slate: In 1969, homosexual acts were illegal in every state except Illinois.

That summer, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village.

Few photographs of the raid and the riots that followed exist. Other images in this film are either recreations or drawn from events of the time.

Martin Boyce: For me, there was no bar like the Stonewall, because the Stonewall was like the watering hole on the savannah. You know, it's just, everybody was there. We were all there.

Dick Leitsch: Well, gay bars were the social centers of gay life. Gay bars were to gay people what churches were to blacks in the South.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: There were no instructions except: put them out of business. The first police officer that came in with our group said, "The place is under arrest. When you exit, have some identification and it'll be over in a short time." This time they said, "We're not going." That's it. "We're not going."

Danny Garvin: Something snapped. It's like, this is not right.

Doric Wilson: That's what happened Stonewall night to a lot of people. We went, "Oh my God. I am not alone, there are other people that feel exactly the same way."

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: We didn't have the manpower, and the manpower for the other side was coming like it was a real war. And that's what it was, it was a war.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: This was the Rosa Parks moment, the time that gay people stood up and said no. And once that happened, the whole house of cards that was the system of oppression of gay people started to crumble.

John O'Brien: In the Civil Rights Movement, we ran from the police, in the peace movement, we ran from the police. That night, the police ran from us, the lowliest of the low. And it was fantastic.

Narrator (Archival): Do you want your son enticed into the world of homosexuals, or your daughter lured into lesbianism? Do you want them to lose all chance of a normal, happy, married life?

William Eskridge, Professor of Law: The 1960s were dark ages for lesbians and gay men all over America. The overwhelming number of medical authorities said that homosexuality was a mental defect, maybe even a form of psychopathy.

Slate: The Homosexual (1967), CBS Reports

Mike Wallace (Archival): The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.

Audience Member (Archival): I was wondering if you think that there are any quote "happy homosexuals" for whom homosexuality would be, in a way, their best adjustment in life?

Dr. Socarides (Archival): I think the whole idea of saying "the happy homosexual" is to, uh, to create a mythology about the nature of homosexuality.

Mike Wallace (Archival): Dr. Charles Socarides is a New York psychoanalyst at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. They are taught that no man is born homosexual and many psychiatrists now believe that homosexuality begins to form in the first three years of life.

Dr. Socarides (Archival): Homosexuality is in fact a mental illness which has reached epidemiological proportions.

Martha Shelley: In those days, what they would do, these psychiatrists, is they would try to talk you into being heterosexual. If that didn't work, they would do things like aversive conditioning, you know, show you pornography and then give you an electric shock.

Narrator (Archival): This involves showing the gay man pictures of nude males and shocking him with a strong electric current. Over a short period of time, he will be unable to get sexually aroused to the pictures, and hopefully, he will be unable to get sexually aroused inside, in other settings as well.

William Eskridge, Professor of Law: Gay people who were sentenced to medical institutions because they were found to be sexual psychopaths, were subjected sometimes to sterilization, occasionally to castration, sometimes to medical procedures, such as lobotomies, which were felt by some doctors to cure homosexuality and other sexual diseases. The most infamous of those institutions was Atascadero, in California. Atascadero was known in gay circles as the Dachau for queers, and appropriately so. The medical experimentation in Atascadero included administering, to gay people, a drug that simulated the experience of drowning in other words, a pharmacological example of waterboarding.

Doric Wilson: Somebody that I knew that was older than me, his family had him sent off where they go up and damage the frontal part of the brain. The last time I saw him, he was a walking vegetable. Because he was homosexual.

Raymond Castro: Society expected you to, you know, grow up, get married, have kids, which is what a lot of people did to satisfy their parents. I never believed in that. It eats you up inside. It eats you up inside not being comfortable with yourself.

Martha Shelley: When I was growing up in the '50s, I was supposed to get married to some guy, produce, you know, the usual 2.3 children, and I could look at a guy and say, "Well, objectively he's good looking," but I didn't feel anything, just didn't make any sense to me. What finally made sense to me was the first time I kissed a woman and I thought, "Oh, this is what it's about." And I knew that I was lesbian. And, it was, I knew I would go through hell, I would go through fire for that experience. For those kisses.

Slate: Activity Group Therapy (1950), Columbia University Educational Films

Narrator (Archival): Note how Albert delicately pats his hair, and adjusts his collar. His movements are not characteristic of a real boy.

Martin Boyce: I wasn't labeled gay, just "different." Somehow being gay was the most terrible thing you could possibly be. And I just didn't understand that. I just thought you had to get through this, and I thought I could get through it, but you really had to be smart about it. Clever. Remember everything. 'Cause I really realized that I was being trained as a straight person, so I could really fool these people. As kids, we played King Kong. I would wait until there was nobody left to be the girl and then I would be the girl. If anybody should find out I was gay and would tell my mother, who was in a wheelchair, it would have broken my heart and she would have thought she did something wrong. I could never let that happen and never did.

John O'Brien: I knew that the words that were being said to put down people, was about me. I learned, very early, that those horrible words were about me, that I was one of those people.

Danny Garvin: He's a faggot, he's a sissy, queer. Queer was very big. Homo, homo was big. My last name being Garvin, I'd be called Danny Gay-vin. I was in the Navy when I was 17 and it was there that I discovered that I was gay. Homosexuality was a dishonorable discharge in those days, and you couldn't get a job afterwards. So I attempted suicide by cutting my wrists. I met this guy and I broke down crying in his arms. Saying I don't want to be this way, this is not the life I want. I'm losing everything that I have. The Catholic Church, be damned to hell. Because to be gay represented to me either very, super effeminate men or older men who hung out in the upper movie theatres on 42nd Street or in the subway T-rooms, who'd be masturbating.

Slate: Boys Beware (1961) Public Service Announcement

Narrator (Archival): Sure enough, the following day, when Jimmy finished playing ball, well, the man was there waiting. Jimmy hadn't enjoyed himself so much in a long time. Then during lunch, Ralph showed him some pornographic pictures. Jimmy knew he shouldn't be interested but, well, he was curious. What Jimmy didn't know is that Ralph was sick. A sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious. A sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual. One never knows when the homosexual is about. He may appear normal, and it may be too late when you discover he is mentally ill.

John O'Brien: I was a poor, young gay person. All I knew about was that I heard that there were people down in Times Square who were gay and that's where I went to. And I found them in the movie theatres, sitting there, next to them.

Martin Boyce: I had cousins, ten years older than me, and they had a car sometimes. I would get in the back of the car and they would say, "We're going to go see faggots." It was one of the things you did in New York, it was like the Barnum and Bailey aspect of it. It was fun to see fags.

Mike Wallace (Archival): Two out of three Americans look upon homosexuals with disgust, discomfort or fear. A CBS news public opinion survey indicates that sentiment is against permitting homosexual relationships between consenting adults without legal punishment. The severity of the punishment varies from state to state. The homosexual, bitterly aware of his rejection, responds by going underground. They frequent their own clubs, and bars and coffee houses, where they can escape the disapproving eye of the society that they call straight.

Slate: The Homosexual (1966), WTVJ/Miami

Narrator (Archival): This is one of the county's principal weekend gathering places for homosexuals, both male and female. The scenes were photographed with telescopic lenses. It is usually after the day at the beach that the real crime occurs. And it's interesting to note how many youngsters we've been seeing in these films.

Detective John Sorenson, Dade County Morals & Juvenile Squad (Archival): There may be some in this auditorium. There may be some here today that will be homosexual in the future. There are a lot of kids here. There may be some girls here who will turn lesbian. We don't know. But it's serious, don't kid yourselves about it. They can be anywhere. They could be judges, lawyers. We ought to know, we've arrested all of them. So if any one of you, have let yourself become involved with an adult homosexual, or with another boy, and you're doing this on a regular basis, you better stop quick. Because one out of three of you will turn queer. And if we catch you, involved with a homosexual, your parents are going to know about it first. And you will be caught, don't think you won't be caught, because this is one thing you cannot get away with. This is one thing that if you don't get caught by us, you'll be caught by yourself. And the rest of your life will be a living hell.

Virginia Apuzzo: I grew up with that. I grew up in a very Catholic household and the conflict of issues of redemption, of is it possible that if you are this thing called homosexual, is it possible to be redeemed? Is that conceivable? And that, that was a very haunting issue for me. I entered the convent at 26, to pursue that question and I was convinced that I would either stay until I got an answer, or if I didn't get an answer just stay.

William Eskridge, Professor of Law: The Stonewall riots came at a central point in history.

Ed Koch, Councilman, New York City: Gay rights, like the rights of blacks, were constantly under attack and while blacks were protected by constitutional amendments coming out of the Civil War, gays were not protected by law and certainly not the Constitution.

Slate: Perversion for Profit (1965), Citizens for Decency Through Law

Narrator (Archival): This is a nation of laws. These homosexuals glorify unnatural sex acts. Every arrest and prosecution is a step in the education of the public to the solution of the problem.

John O'Brien: If a gay man is caught by the police and is identified as being involved in what they called lewd, immoral behavior, they would have their person's name, their age and many times their home address listed in the major newspapers. You were alone.

Slate: The Homosexuals (1967), CBS Reports

Narrator (Archival): We arrested homosexuals who committed their lewd acts in public places. This 19-year-old serviceman left his girlfriend on the beach to go to a men's room in a park nearby where he knew that he could find a homosexual contact. The men's room was under police surveillance. The only faces you will see are those of the arresting officers.

Cop (Archival): Anyone can walk into that men's room, any child can walk in there, and see what you guys were doing. How do you think that would affect him mentally, for the rest of their lives if they saw an act like that being…?

Prisoner (Archival): I realize that, but the thing is that for life I'll be wrecked by this record, see? I mean I'm only 19 and this'll ruin me.

William Eskridge, Professor of Law: The federal government would fire you, school boards would fire you. So you couldn't have a license to practice law, you couldn't be a licensed doctor. You needed a license even to be a beautician and that could be either denied or taken away from you.

Dick Leitsch: It was an invasion, I mean you felt outraged and stuff like you know what, God, this is America, what's this country come to? But you live with it, you know, you're used to this, after the third time it happened, or, the third time you heard about it, that's the way the world is.

Yvonne Ritter: It's like people who are, you know, black people who are used to being mistreated, and going to the back of the bus and I guess this was sort of our going to the back of the bus.

Eric Marcus, Writer: Before Stonewall, there was no such thing as coming out or being out. The very idea of being out, it was ludicrous. People talk about being in and out now, there was no out, there was just in.

Martha Shelley: If you were in a small town somewhere, everybody knew you and everybody knew what you did and you couldn't have a relationship with a member of your own sex, period. If you came to a place like New York, you at least had the opportunity of connecting with people, and finding people who didn't care that you were gay.

Martin Boyce: In the early 60s, if you would go near Port Authority, there were tons of people coming in. And they were gay.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: There were all these articles in like Life Magazine about how the Village was liberal and people that were called homosexuals went there. And then there were all these priests ranting in church about certain places not to go, so you kind of knew where you could go by what you were told not to do.

Jerry Hoose: And I got to the corner of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street, crossed the street and there I had found Nirvana. There was all these drags queens and these crazy people and everybody was carrying on. I made friends that first day.

Danny Garvin: It was the perfect time to be in the Village. The music was great, cafes were good, you know, the coffee houses were good.

John O'Brien: There was one street called Christopher Street, where actually I could sit and talk to other gay people beyond just having sex.

Jerry Hoose: The open gay people that hung out on the streets were basically the have-nothing-to-lose types, which I was. A lot of them had been thrown out of their families. And that crowd between Howard Johnson's and Mama's Chik-n-Rib was like the basic crowd of the gay community at that time in the Village. You gotta remember, the Stonewall bar was just down the street from there. It was right in the center of where we all were.

Martin Boyce: That was our only block. That was our world, that block. I mean, I came out in Central Park and other places. That wasn't ours, it was borrowed. This was ours, here's where the Stonewall was, here's our Mecca.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: I had a column in The Village Voice that ran from '66 all the way through '84. The idea was to be there first. It was an age of experimentation. In the sexual area, in psychology, psychiatry. Almost anything you could name. Things were just changing. All the rules were off in the '60s. It was tremendous freedom.

Virginia Apuzzo: It was free but not quite free enough for us. You had no place to try to find an identity. And when you got a word, the word was homosexuality and you looked it up. It said the most dreadful things, it said nothing about being a person. It was as if they were identifying a thing.

Fred Sargeant: In the '60s, I met Craig Rodwell who was running the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. He brought in gay-positive materials and placed that in a setting that people could come to and feel comfortable in. But as visibility increased, the reactions of people increased. The shop had been threatened, we would get hang-up calls, calls where people would curse at us on the phone, we'd had vandalism, windows broken, streams of profanity.

Martin Boyce: You could be beaten, you could have your head smashed in a men's room because you were looking the wrong way. We could lose our memory from the beating, we could be in wheelchairs like some were. Hunted, hunted, sometimes we were hunted. We could easily be hunted, that was a game.

William Eskridge, Professor of Law: All throughout the 60s in New York City, the period when the New York World's Fair was attracting visitors from all over America and all over the world. The mayor of New York City, the police commissioner, were under pressure to clean up the streets of any kind of quote unquote "weirdness." A word that would be used in the 1960s for gay men and lesbians.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: They were sexual deviates. I guess they're deviates. They were to us.

William Eskridge, Professor of Law: Ed Koch who was a democratic party leader in the Greenwich Village area, was a specific leader of the local forces seeking to clean up the streets.

Ed Koch, Councilman, New York City: There were complaints from people who objected to the wrongful behavior of some gays who would have sex on the street. And the Village has a lot of people with children and they were offended.

William Eskridge, Professor of Law: In states like New York, there were a whole basket of crimes that gay people could be charged with. One was the 1845 statute that made it a crime in the state to masquerade.

Slate: Queens at Heart (1965)

TV Host (Archival): Are those your own eyelashes?

Guest (Archival): No.

TV Host (Archival): And Sonia is that your own hair?

Guest (Archival): No.

TV Host (Archival): That's a very lovely dress too that you're wearing Simone. Where did you buy it?

Guest (Archival): Oh, I made it myself.

TV Host (Archival): Ladies and gentlemen, the reason for using first names only for these very, very charming contestants is that right now each one of them is breaking the law.

Yvonne Ritter: "In drag," quote unquote, the downside was that you could get arrested, you could definitely get arrested if someone clocked you or someone spooked that you were not really what you appeared to be on the outside.

Fred Sargeant: Three articles of clothing had to be of your gender or you would be in violation of that law.

Martin Boyce: Mind you socks didn't count, so it was underwear, and undershirt, now the next thing was going to ruin the outfit.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: If someone was dressed as a woman, you had to have a female police officer go in with her. They'd go into the bathroom or any place that was private, that they could either feel them, or check them visually.

Jerry Hoose: I remember I was in a paddy wagon one time on the way to jail, we were all locked up together on a chain in the paddy wagon and the paddy wagon stopped for a red light or something and one of the queens said "Oh, this is my stop." We did use humor to cover pain, frustration, anger.

Dick Leitsch: Very often, they would put the cops in dresses, with makeup and they usually weren't very convincing. You see these cops, like six or eight cops in drag. And then they send them out in the street and of course they did make arrests, because you know, there's all these guys who cruise around looking for drag queens. And so there was this drag queen standing on the corner, so they go up and make a sexual offer and they'd get busted.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: The police would zero in on us because sometimes they would be in plain clothes, and sometimes they would even entrap.

Ed Koch, Councilman, New York City: Yes, entrapment did exist, particularly in the subway system, in the bathrooms. The cops would hide behind the walls of the urinals.

Raymond Castro: New York City subways, parks, public bathrooms, you name it. Naturally, you get careless, you fall for it, and the next thing you know, you have silver bracelets on both arms.

Dick Leitsch: You read about Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal and all these actors and stuff, Liberace and all these people running around doing all these things and then you came to New York and you found out, well maybe they're doing them but, you know, us middle-class homosexuals, we're getting busted all the time, every time we have a place to go, it gets raided.

Danny Garvin: Everybody would just freeze or clam up. The lights came on, it's like stop dancing.

Raymond Castro: If that light goes on, you know to stop whatever you're doing, and separate. Because that's what they were looking for, any excuse to try to bust the place.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: It was always hands up, what do you want? Here are my ID cards, you knew they were phonies. And it would take maybe a half hour to clear the place out.

William Eskridge, Professor of Law: At the peak, as many as 500 people per year were arrested for the crime against nature, and between 3- and 5,000 people per year arrested for various solicitation or loitering crimes. This is every year in New York City. Well, it was a nightmare for the lesbian or gay man who was arrested and caught up in this juggernaut, but it was also a nightmare for the lesbians or gay men who lived in the closet. This produced an enormous amount of anger within the lesbian and gay community in New York City and in other parts of America. Gay people were not powerful enough politically to prevent the clampdown and so you had a series of escalating skirmishes in 1969. Eventually something was bound to blow.

Doric Wilson: When I was very young, one of the terms for gay people was twilight people, meaning that we never came out until twilight, 'til it got dark. Gay bars were always on side streets out of the way in neighborhoods that nobody would go into. The windows were always cloaked.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: There were gay bars all over town, not just in Greenwich Village. There were gay bars in Midtown, there were gay bars uptown, there were certain kinds of gay bars on the Upper East Side, you know really, really, really buttoned-up straight gay bars. There was at least one gay bar that was run just as a hustler bar for straight gay married men.

Dick Leitsch: New York State Liquor Authority had a rule that one known homosexual at a licensed premise made the place disorderly, so nobody would set up a place where we could meet because they were afraid that the cops would come in to close it, and that's how the Mafia got into the gay bar business.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: The mob raised its hand and said "Oh, we'll volunteer," you know, "We'll set up some gay bars and serve over-priced, watered-down drinks to you guys." And the Stonewall was part of that system. The Mafia owned the jukeboxes, they owned the cigarette machines and most of the liquor was off a truck hijacking. It was a 100% profit, I mean they were stealing the liquor, then watering it down, and they charging twice as much as they charged one door away at the 55.

Ed Koch, Councilman, New York City: The Stonewall, they didn't have a liquor license and they were raided by the cops regularly and there were pay-offs to the cops, it was awful.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: I had been in some gay bars either for a story or gay friends would say, "Oh we're going to go in for a drink there, come on in, are you too uptight to go in?" But I had only stuck my head in once at the Stonewall. It was a down at a heels kind of place, it was a lot of street kids and things like that. It was not a place that, in my life, me and my friends paid much attention to. We knew it was a gay bar, we walked past it. It meant nothing to us.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: It was a bottle club which meant that I guess you went to the door and you bought a membership or something for a buck and then you went in and then you could buy drinks.

Fred Sargeant: We knew that they were serving drinks out of vats and buckets of water and believed that there had been some disease that had been passed.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: I never bought a drink at the Stonewall. Never, never, never. Mafia house beer? I mean does anyone know what that is?

Jerry Hoose: The bar itself was a toilet. But it was a refuge, it was a temporary refuge from the street.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: The Stonewall pulled in everyone from every part of gay life. Everyone from the street kids who were white and black kids from the South. All kinds of designers, boxers, big museum people. A medievalist. First you gotta get past the door. There's a little door that slides open with this power-hungry nut behind that, you see this much of your eyes, and he sees that much of your face, and then he decides whether you're going to get in.

Martin Boyce: Well, in the front part of the bar would be like "A" gays, like regular gays, that didn't go in any kind of drag, didn't use the word "she," that type, but they were gay, a hundred percent gay. And then as you turned into the other room with the jukebox, those were the drag queens around the jukebox. Mary Queen of the Scotch, Congo Woman, Captain Faggot, Miss Twiggy.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: What was so good about the Stonewall was that you could dance slow there. Cause we could feel a sense of love for each other that we couldn't show out on the street, because you couldn't show any affection out on the street.

Danny Garvin: It was a chance to find love. I had never seen anything like that. I never saw so many gay people dancing in my life. And I said to myself, "Oh my God, this will not last."

John O'Brien: Heterosexuals, legally, had lots of sexual outlets. They call them hotels, motels, lovers' lanes, drive-in movie theaters, etc. Gay people were told we didn't have any of that. And we had no right to such. Except for the few mob-owned bars that allowed some socializing, it was basically for verboten. And so we had to create these spaces, mostly in the trucks. And these were meat trucks that in daytime were used by the meat industry for moving dead produce, and they really reeked, but at nighttime, that's where people went to have sex, you know, and there would be hundreds and hundreds of men having sex together in these trucks.

Martin Boyce: I heard about the trucks, which to me was fascinated me, you know, it had an imagination thing that was like Marseilles, how can it only be a few blocks away? But we went down to the trucks and there, people would have sex. In the trucks or around the trucks. And it just seemed like, fantastic because the background was this industrial, becoming an industrial ruin, it was a masculine setting, it was a whole world.

Raymond Castro: I'd go in there and I would look and I would just cringe because, you know, people would start touching me, and "Hello, what are you doing there if you don't want to be touched?" But I was just curious, I didn't want to participate because number one it was so packed. I mean I'm talking like sardines.

John O'Brien: It was definitely dark, it was definitely smelly and raunchy and dirty and that's the only places that we had to meet each other, was in the very dirty, despicable places. And there, we weren't allowed to be alone, the police would raid us still.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: So you're outside, and you see like two people walking toward these trucks and you think, "Oh I think I'll go in there," you go in there, there's like a lot of people in there and it's all dark. Then the cops come up and make use of what used to be called the bubble-gum machine, back then a cop car only had one light on the top that spun around. The term like "authority figures" wasn't used back then, there was just "Lily Law," "Patty Pig," "Betty Badge." It was done in our little street talk.

Jerry Hoose: The police would come by two or three times a night. They would bang on the trucks. We'd say, "Here comes Lillian."

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: We would scatter, ka-poom, every which way.

Jerry Hoose: I was chased down the street with billy clubs. One time, a bunch of us ran into somebody's car and locked the door and they smashed the windows in. That was scary, very scary.

John O'Brien: Whenever you see the cops, you would run away from them. Absolutely, and many people who were not lucky, felt the cops. They would not always just arrest, they would many times use clubs and beat.

Martha Shelley: Before Stonewall, the homophile movement was essentially the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis and all of these other little gay organizations, some of which were just two people and a mimeograph machine.

Eric Marcus, Writer: The Mattachine Society was the first gay rights organization, and they literally met in a space with the blinds drawn. They were afraid that the FBI was following them.

Dick Leitsch: Mattachino in Italy were court jesters the only people in the whole kingdom who could speak truth to the king because they did it with a smile. As president of the Mattachine Society in New York, I tried to negotiate with the police and the mayor. Finally, Mayor Lindsay listened to us and he announced that there would be no more police entrapment in New York City.

Martha Shelley: We participated in demonstrations in Philadelphia at Independence Hall. A few of us would get dressed up in skirts and blouses and the guys would all have to wear suits and ties. And, I did not like parading around while all of these vacationers were standing there eating ice cream and looking at us like we were critters in a zoo.

Dick Leitsch: We wore suits and ties because we wanted people, in the public, who were wearing suits and ties, to identify with us. We didn't want to come on, you know, wearing fuzzy sweaters and lipstick, you know, and being freaks. You know, we wanted to be part of the mainstream society.

Slate: The Homosexual (1966), WTVJ/Miami

Narrator (Archival): Richard Enman, president of the Mattachine Society of Florida, whose goal is to legalize homosexuality between consenting adults, was a reluctant participant in tonight's program.

Richard Enman (Archival): Present laws give the adult homosexual only the choice of being, to simplify the matter, heterosexual and legal or homosexual and illegal. This, to a homosexual, is no choice at all.

Interviewer (Archival): What type of laws are you after?

Richard Enman (Archival): Well, let me say, first of all, what type of laws we are not after, because there has been much to-do that the Society was in favor of the legalization of marriage between homosexuals, and the adoption of children, and such as that, and that is not at all factual at all. Homosexuals do not want that, you might find some fringe character someplace who says that that's what he wants.

Interviewer (Archival): Are you a homosexual?

Richard Enman (Archival): Ye - well, that's yes and no. I was a homosexual. I first engaged in such acts when I was 14 years old. I was never seduced by an older person or anything like that. But I gave it up about, oh I forget, some years ago, over four years ago. It's not my cup of tea.

Martha Shelley: They wanted to fit into American society the way it was. And I had become very radicalized in that time. There was the Hippie movement, there was the Summer of Love, Martin Luther King, and all of these affected me terribly. All of the rules that I had grown up with, and that I had hated in my guts, other people were fighting against, and saying "No, it doesn't have to be this way."

John O'Brien: And deep down I believed because I was gay and couldn't speak out for my rights, was probably one of the reasons that I was so active in the Civil Rights Movement. It was a way to vent my anger at being repressed.

Virginia Apuzzo: What we felt in isolation was a growing sense of outrage and fury particularly because we looked around and saw so many avenues of rebellion.

Danny Garvin: We had thought of women's rights, we had thought of black rights, all kinds of human rights, but we never thought of gay rights, and whenever we got kicked out of a bar before, we never came together.

John O'Brien: The election was in November of 1969 and this was the summer of 1969, this was June. Mayor John Lindsay, like most mayors, wanted to get re-elected. And the police escalated their crackdown on bars because of the reelection campaign.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: All of straight America, in terms of the middle class, was recoiling in horror from what was happening all around them at that time, in that summer and the summer before. The Chicago riots, the Human Be-in, the dope smoking, the hippies. All of this stuff was just erupting like a -- as far as they were considered, like a gigantic boil on the butt of America.

Jerry Hoose: Who was gonna complain about a crackdown against gay people? Nobody. Not even us.

John O'Brien: They had increased their raids in the trucks. They raided the Checkerboard, which was a very popular gay bar, a week before the Stonewall.

David Carter, Author of Stonewall: There was also vigilantism, people were using walkie-talkies to coordinate attacks on gay men. So gay people were being strangled, shot, thrown in the river, blackmailed, fired from jobs. It was a horror story.

Yvonne Ritter: I had just turned 18 on June 27, 1969. I was celebrating my birthday at the Stonewall. Beginning of our night out started early. When we got dressed for that night, we had cocktails and we put the makeup on. I was wearing my mother's black and white cocktail dress that was empire-waisted. I didn't think I could have been any prettier than that night. I told the person at the door, I said "I'm 18 tonight" and he said to me, "you little SOB," he said. "You could have got us in a lot of trouble, you could have got us closed up." Well, little did he know that what was gonna to happen later on was to make history.

Dick Leitsch: And I remember it being a clear evening with a big black sky and the biggest white moon I ever saw.

Eric Marcus, Writer: It was incredibly hot. You throw into that, that the Stonewall was raided the previous Tuesday night. So it was a perfect storm for the police. They didn't know what they were walking into.

David Carter, Author of Stonewall: Most raids by the New York City Police, because they were paid off by the mob, took place on a weeknight, they took place early in the evening, the place would not be crowded. This was a highly unusual raid, going in there in the middle of the night with a full crowd, the Mafia hasn't been alerted, the Sixth Precinct hasn't been alerted.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: We only had about six people altogether from the police department knowing that you had a precinct right nearby that would send assistance.

Raymond Castro: We were in the back of the room, and the lights went on, so everybody stopped what they were doing, because now the police started coming in, raiding the bar. They pushed everybody like to the back room and slowly asking for IDs. Meanwhile, there was crowds forming outside the Stonewall, wanting to know what was going on.

Danny Garvin: We were talking about the revolution happening and we were walking up 7th Avenue and I was thinking it was either Black Panthers or the Young Lords were going to start it and we turned the corner from 7th Avenue onto Christopher Street and we saw the paddy wagon pull up there. And some people came out, being very dramatic, throwing their arms up in a V, you know, the victory sign.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: That night I'm in my office, I looked down the street, and I could see the Stonewall sign and I started to see some activity in front. So I run down there. And as I'm looking around to see what's going on, police cars, different things happening, it's getting bigger by the minute. And the people coming out weren't going along with it so easily.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: A rather tough lesbian was busted in the bar and when she came out of the bar she was fighting the cops and trying to get away. And the harder she fought, the more the cops were beating her up and the madder the crowd got. And I ran into Howard Smith on the street, The Village Voice was right there. And Howard said, "Boy there's like a riot gonna happen here," and I said, "yeah." And the police were showing up. And so Howard said, "We've got police press passes upstairs." You know, Howard's concern was and my concern was that if all hell broke loose, they'd just start busting heads. At least if you had press, maybe your head wouldn't get busted.

Fred Sargeant: Things started off small, but there was an energy that began to flow through the crowd.

Danny Garvin: People were screaming "pig," "copper." People started throwing pennies.

Yvonne Ritter: And then everybody started to throw pennies like, you know, this is what they were, they were nothing but copper, coppers, that's what they were worth.

Dick Leitsch: So it was mostly goofing really, basically goofing on them. Getting then in the car, rocking them back and forth. Calling 'em names, telling 'em how good-looking they were, grabbing their butts. Doing things like that. Just making their lives miserable for once.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: At a certain point, it felt pretty dangerous to me but I noticed that the cop that seemed in charge, he said you know what, we have to go inside for safety. Your choice, you can come in with us or you can stay out here with the crowd and report your stuff from out here. I said, "I can go in with you?" He said, "Okay, let's go." He pulls all his men inside. It's the first time I'm fully inside the Stonewall.

Raymond Castro: So then I got pushed back in, into the Stonewall by these plain clothes cops and they would not let me out, they didn't let anybody out. They were just holding us almost like in a hostage situation where you don't know what's going to happen next.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: But there were little, tiny pin holes in the plywood windows, I'll call them the windows but they were plywood, and we could look out from there and every time I went over and looked out through one of those pin holes where he did, we were shocked at how big the crowd had become. They were getting more ferocious. Things were being thrown against the plywood, we piled things up to try to buttress it.

Fred Sargeant: Someone at this point had apparently gone down to the cigar stand on the corner and got lighter fluid.

John O'Brien: And then somebody started a fire, they started with little lighters and matches.

Raymond Castro: Incendiary devices were being thrown in I don't think they were Molotov cocktails, but it was just fire being thrown in when the doors got open.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: Well, we did use the small hoses on the fire extinguishers. But we couldn't hold out very long.

John O'Brien: I was very anti-police, had many years already of activism against the forces of law and order. This was the first time I could actually sense, not only see them fearful, I could sense them fearful.

Doric Wilson: There was joy because the cops weren't winning. The cops were barricaded inside. We were winning.

John O'Brien: I was with a group that we actually took a parking meter out of the ground, three or four people, and we used it as a battering ram.

Martin Boyce: Oh, Miss New Orleans, she wouldn't be stopped. And she was quite crazy. And when she grabbed that everybody knew she couldn't do it alone so all the other queens, Congo Woman, queens like that started and they were hitting that door. I mean they were making some headway.

Danny Garvin: Bam, bam and bash and then an opening and then whoa….

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: We had maybe six people and by this time there were several thousand outside.

Raymond Castro: You could hear screaming outside, a lot of noise from the protesters and it was a good sound. It was a real good sound to know that, you know, you had a lot of people out there pulling for you.

Yvonne Ritter: I did try to get out of the bar and I thought that there might be a way out through one of the bathrooms. Somebody grabbed me by the leg and told me I wasn't going anywhere.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: The moment you stepped out that door there would be hundreds facing you. It was terrifying. It was as bad as any situation that I had met in during the army, had just as much to worry about.

John O'Brien: Our goal was to hurt those police. I wanted to kill those cops for the anger I had in me. And the cops got that. And they were lucky that door was closed, they were very lucky. Cause I was from the streets.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: And I keep listening and listening and listening, hoping I'm gonna hear sirens any minute and I was very freaked. Because if they weren't there fast, I was worried that there was something going on that I didn't know about and they weren't gonna come.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: Our radio was cut off every time we got on the police radio. That never happened before.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: So at that point the police are extremely nervous. And a couple of 'em had pulled out their guns. I actually thought, as all of them did, that we were going to be killed. And if enough people broke through they would be killed and I would be killed. They'd think I'm a cop even though I had a big Jew-fro haircut and a big handlebar mustache at the time. But I'm wearing this police thing I'm thinking well if they break through I better take it off really quickly but they're gunna come this way and we're going to be backing up and -- who knows what'll happen.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: We told this to our men. "Don't fire. Don't fire until I fire."

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: And he went to each man and said it by name. Like, "Joe, if you fire your gun without me saying your name and the words 'fire,' you will be walking a beat on Staten Island all alone on a lonely beach for the rest of your police career. Do you understand me?"

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: Well, I had to act like I wasn't nervous. That this was normal stuff. But everybody knew it wasn't normal stuff and everyone was on edge and that was the worst part of it because you knew they were on edge and you knew that the first shot that was fired meant all the shots would be fired.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: It was getting worse and worse. People standing on cars, standing on garbage cans, screaming, yelling. The ones that came close you could see their faces in rage.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: We were looking for secret exits and one of the policewomen was able to squirm through the window and they did find a way out.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: All of a sudden, in the background I heard some police cars. And we all relaxed. We heard one, then more and more.

Dick Leitsch: And so the cops came with these buses, like five buses, and they all were full of tactical police force. And they wore dark police uniforms and riot helmets and they had billy clubs and they had big plastic shields, like Roman army, and they actually formed a phalanx, and just marched down Christopher Street and kind of pushed us in front of them.

Raymond Castro: So finally when they started taking me out, arm in arm up to the paddy wagon, I jumped up and I put one foot on one side, one foot on the other and I sprung back, knocking the two arresting officers, knocking them to the ground. And a whole bunch of people who were in the paddy wagon ran out.

Martin Boyce: All of a sudden, Miss New Orleans and all people around us started marching step by step and the police started moving back. That's what gave oxygen to the fire. Because as the police moved back, we were conscious, all of us, of the area we were controlling and now we were in control of the area because we were surrounded the bar, we were moving in, they were moving back.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: And by the time the police would come back towards Stonewall, that crowd had gone all the around Washington Place come all the way back around and were back pushing in on them from the other direction and the police would wonder, "These are the same people or different people?"

Danny Garvin: With Waverly Street coming in there, West Fourth coming in there, Seventh Avenue coming in there, Christopher Street coming in there, there was no way to contain us.

Dick Leitsch: And the blocks were small enough that we could run around the block and come in behind them before they got to the next corner. And this went on for hours.

Martin Boyce: We were like a Hydra. You cut one head off. For the first time the next person stood up.

John O'Brien: All of a sudden, the police faced something they had never seen before. Gay people were never supposed to be threats to police officers. They were supposed to be weak men, limp-wristed. Not able to do anything. And here they were lifting things up and fighting them and attacking them and beating them.

Martin Boyce: And I remember moving into the open space and grabbing onto two of my friends and we started singing and doing a kick line. And we were singing: "We are the Village girls, we wear our hair in curls, we wear our dungarees, above our nellie knees." This was in front of the police.

Jerry Hoose: I mean the riot squad was used to riots. They were not used to a bunch of drag queens doing a Rockettes kick line and sort of like giving them all the finger in a way.

Danny Garvin: And the cops just charged them. And they started smashing their heads with clubs.

Martin Boyce: And then more police came, and it didn't stop. Windows started to break. And all of a sudden, pandemonium broke loose.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: What they did in the Stonewall that night. I went in there and they took bats and just busted that place up. The mirrors, all the bottles of liquor, the jukebox, the cigarette machines.

Raymond Castro: There were mesh garbage cans being lit up on fire and being thrown at the police. Tires were slashed on police cars and it just went on all night long.

John O'Brien: Cops got hurt. It must have been terrifying for them. I hope it was. It gives back a little of the terror they gave in my life.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: Those of us that were the street kids we didn't think much about the past or the future. We were thinking about survival. So anything that would set us off, we would go into action. And it's that hairpin trigger thing that makes the riot happen. The police weren't letting us dance. If there's one place in the world where you can dance and feel yourself fully as a person and that's threatened with being taken away, those words are fighting words.

Martin Boyce: The day after the first riot, when it was all over, and I remember sitting, sun was soon to come, and I was sitting on the stoop, and I was exhausted and I looked at that street, it was dark enough to allow the street lamps to pick up the glitter of all the broken glass, and all the debris, and all the different colored cloth, that was in different places. It was as if an artist had arranged it, it was beautiful, it was like mica, it was like the streets we fought on were strewn with diamonds. It was like a reward. I really thought that, you know, we did it. But we're going to pay dearly for this.

Fred Sargeant: When it was clear that things were definitely over for the evening, we decided we needed to do something more. We knew that this was a moment that we didn't want to let slip past, because it was something that we could use to bring more of the groups together. Leaflets in the 60s were like the internet, today. That night, we printed a box, we had 5,000. It was a leaflet that attacked the relationship of the police and the Mafia and the bars that we needed to see ended.

Jerry Hoose: I was afraid it was over. And there was like this tension in the air and it just like built and built.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: Saturday night there it was. The Stonewall had reopened. The mob was saying, you know, "Screw you, cops, you think you can come in a bust us up? We'll put new liquor in there, we'll put a new mirror up, we'll get a new jukebox." And gay people were standing around outside and the mood on the street was, "They think that they could disperse us last night and keep us from doing what we want to do, being on the street saying I'm gay and I'm proud? Just let's see if they can."

Martin Boyce: People in the neighborhood, the most unlikely people were starting to support it. My father said, "About time you fags rioted."

Jerry Hoose: Gay people who had good jobs, who had everything in life to lose, were starting to join in. Even non-gay people.

Dick Leitsch: There were Black Panthers and there were anti-war people.

Martin Boyce: There were these two black, like, banjee guys, and they were saying, "What's goin' on man?" and someone would say, "Well, they're still fighting the police, let's go," and they went in.

Fred Sargeant: The tactical patrol force on the second night came in even larger numbers, and were much more brutal. There were occasions where you did see people get night-sticked, or disappear into a group of police and, you know, everybody knew that was not going to have a good end.

John O'Brien: They went for the head wounds, it wasn't just the back wounds and the leg wounds.

Dick Leitsch: And that's when you started seeing like, bodies laying on the sidewalk, people bleeding from the head.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: They started busting cans of tear gas. And there was tear gas on Saturday night, right in front of the Stonewall.

Danny Garvin: There was more anger and more fight the second night. There was no going back now, there was no going back, there was no, we had discovered a power that we weren't even aware that we had.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: And then the next night. I mean it didn't stop after that. Once it started, once that genie was out of the bottle, it was never going to go back in.

Howard Smith, Reporter, The Village Voice: It really should have been called Stonewall uprising. They really were objecting to how they were being treated. That's more an uprising than a riot.

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt: As much as I don't like to say it, there's a place for violence. Because if you don't have extremes, you don't get any moderation. And as awful as people might think that sounds, it's the way history has always worked.

Martha Shelley: I don't know if you remember the Joan Baez song, "It isn't nice to block the doorway, it isn't nice to go to jail, there're nicer ways to do it but the nice ways always fail." For the first time, we weren't letting ourselves be carted off to jails, gay people were actually fighting back just the way people in the peace movement fought back.

Martin Boyce: It was thrilling. It was the only time I was in a gladiatorial sport that I stood up in. I was proud. I was a man.

Lucian Truscott, IV, Reporter, The Village Voice: The New York Times I guess printed a story, but it wasn't a major story. I mean you got a major incident going on down there and I didn't see any TV cameras at all. If there had been a riot of that proportion in Harlem, my God, you know, there'd have been cameras everywhere. I famously used the word "fag" in the lead sentence I said "the forces of faggotry." And the first gay power demonstration to my knowledge was against my story in The Village Voice on Wednesday. They put some people on the street right in front of The Village Voice protesting the use of the word fag in my story. And, you know, The Village Voice at that point started using the word "gay."

Fred Sargeant: The press did refer to it in very pejorative terms, as a night that the drag queens fought back. It was nonsense, it was nonsense, it was all the people there, that were reacting and opposing what was occurring.

Danny Garvin: We became a people. We didn't necessarily know where we were going yet, you know, what organizations we were going to be or how things would go, but we became something I, as a person, could all of a sudden grab onto, that I couldn't grab onto when I'd go to a subway T-room as a kid, or a 42nd street movie theater, you know, or being picked up by some dirty old man. You know, all of a sudden, I had brothers and sisters, you know, which I didn't have before.

Martha Shelley: The riot could have been buried, it could have been a few days in the local newspaper and that was that. But we had to follow up, we couldn't just let that be a blip that disappeared. And I hadn't had enough sleep, so I was in a somewhat feverish state, and I thought, "We have to do something, we have to do something," and I thought, "We have to have a protest march of our own." And they were having a meeting at town hall and there were 400 guys who showed up, and I think a couple of women, talking about these riots, 'cause everybody was really energized and upset and angry about it. And I raised my hand at one point and said, "Let's have a protest march." And Dick Leitsch, who was the head of the Mattachine Society said, "Who's in favor?" and I didn't see anything but a forest of hands.

Fred Sargeant: The effect of the Stonewall riot was to change the direction of the gay movement. We were going to propose something that all groups could participate in and what we ended up producing was what's now known as the gay pride march.

Slate: June 28, 1970

Doric Wilson: In those days, the idea of walking in daylight, with a sign saying, "I'm a faggot," was horren--, nobody, nobody was ready to do that. So I got into the subway, and on the car was somebody I recognized and he said, "I've never been so scared in my life," and I said, "Well, please let there be more than ten of us, just please let there be more than ten of us. Because its all right in the Village, but the minute we cross 14th street, if there's only ten of us, God knows what's going to happen to us."

John O'Brien: We had no idea we were gonna finish the march. We had no speakers planned for the rally in Central Park, where we had hoped to get to. We didn't expect we'd ever get to Central Park. We assembled on Christopher Street at 6th Avenue, to march.

Doric Wilson: And we were about 100, 120 people and there were people lining the sidewalks ahead of us to watch us go by, gay people, mainly.

Jerry Hoose: And we were going fast. People that were involved in it like me referred to it as "The First Run." We had been threatened bomb threats. You know. People could take shots at us. We were scared. But as we were going up 6th Avenue, it kept growing.

Doric Wilson: And I looked back and there were about 2,000 people behind us, and that's when I knew it had happened. I say, I cannot tell this without tearing up. And Vito and I walked the rest of the whole thing with tears running down our face. But, that's when we knew, we were ourselves for the first time. America thought we were these homosexual monsters and we were so innocent, and oddly enough, we were so American.

Virginia Apuzzo: It's very American to say, "This is not right." It's very American to say, "You promised equality, you promised freedom." And in a sense the Stonewall riots said, "Get off our backs, deliver on the promise." So in every gay pride parade every year, Stonewall lives.

Martin Boyce: It was another great step forward in the story of human rights, that's what it was. And it was those loudest people, the most vulnerable, the most likely to be arrested, were the ones that were doing the real fighting. They were the storm troopers.

Seymour Pine, Deputy Inspector, Morals Division, NYPD: And they were, they were kids. You knew you could ruin them for life. And you felt bad that you were part of this, when you knew they broke the law, but what kind of law was that?


American Experience

Virginia Apuzzo

Virginia Apuzzo
Within days of the Stonewall riots, 28-year-old Virginia Apuzzo made her way from Riverdale, New York, where she was a novice at the Convent of Mount Saint Vincent, to New York City's Greenwich Village. "I read about Stonewall in the newspaper," she recalled, "and I was very, very curious. Before I entered the convent at age 26, I'd had two lovers and knew I was a lesbian, but I tried to play by the rules. I thought I'd have to live my life with this deep dark secret."

What Apuzzo read in the newspaper made her realize she wasn't alone. "Here I'd thought I was the only one and that I'd just 'spoiled' two other women, and when the newspaper identified what sounded like a public group of people it was as if suddenly a brick wall opened up," she said. "It was very exciting."

Before the summer was over Apuzzo had left the convent, "with what I had on my back," she explained. "When you live a lie, as I was living, you wait for someone to whisper the truth so you can give up the lie, too. That's so much of how I saw and experienced Stonewall and how I've experienced the gay movement."

Over the past four decades, Apuzzo has dedicated her life to public service in a variety of roles, as both an educator and gay rights pioneer. Along the way, Apuzzo has served as executive director of the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force, founded the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, and was appointed to a number of government positions including a stint as associate deputy Secretary of Labor, and she served as the highest ranking gay person in the Clinton White House, where she served as assistant to the president for management and administration.

Apuzzo appreciates that Stonewall still has relevance because "Stonewall happens every day." She explained, "When you go to a Pride march and you see people standing on the side of the road watching and then someone takes that first step off the curb to join the marchers, that's Stonewall all over again. When we, here at the Hudson Valley Center, talk to a teacher about the problems of a young student who is in the process of questioning himself or herself and that kid feels somebody standing there talking to the rule-makers on his or her behalf, that kid experiences a piece of Stonewall all over again. It's just in a different context, but for that one young person, it's no less powerful."

Martin Boyce

Martin Boyce
Just a few months after participating in the Stonewall riots, Martin Boyce returned for the fall semester of his junior year at Hunter College in New York City determined to do something he could never have imagined before Stonewall. "I decided that all of my term papers would be gay," he recalled. "I can say now that that was a courageous thing to do because nobody would hand in a paper in 1969 that had those explicit themes. It just wasn't accepted. But for a student like me, it was exciting because it was ground that no one else had covered before."

For his psychology class assignment on silent language, Boyce decided to do a paper on cruising. "I wrote about meeting someone at a store window," he explained, "and how you let each other know without even saying a word what you wanted and then going off together. It was a perfect theme for that class, but you had to think twice about handing it in."

Boyce wasn't surprised that his professor was "outraged, but he gave me a very good grade. He asked how I could possibly prove these things and I explained that I knew these things were true. He asked how I could know they were true, so I asked him, 'Have you ever slept with a man?' He said, 'no,' and I said, 'Well, then you'll never know.' He didn't say a word and just looked at me."

Boyce began a graduate degree in American history, but he "gave that up because I was a full-scale drag queen by then. You know, a fur coat, makeup, peek-a-boo hairdo, where your long hair covers one eye. It was a look made famous by Veronica Lake [the 1940s film actress and pin-up model]." And by then Boyce was also spending more time looking after his ill parents, who both died in the late 1970s.

While his parents were ill, Boyce took whatever job he could. "I wound up working at restaurants," he said, "and after my parents passed away, I trained as a chef and later opened my own restaurant in the East Village. It was called Everybody's Restaurant and it was a meeting place for artists -- I had a gay business partner who was a painter. Our slogan for brunch, which was completely gay, was 'We treat our customers like kings because the owners are a bunch of queens.' The restaurant brought everyone together it was totally integrated."

With four decades of hindsight, Boyce sees his participation in the Stonewall riot as "a perfect event in my life because it let me live the kinds of dreams I had of seeing an equitable society. I was able to live my life, which I would have done anyway, but without Stonewall I would have had more opposition. So it turns out the times were on my side, which left me with a basically happy life."

Raymond Castro

Raymond Castro
Raymond Castro was not the kind of person who worried about the police when he was a young man socializing in 1960s Greenwich Village. "I was never afraid of the cops on the street," he said, "because I was not an obvious person. I was not flaunting my homosexuality to anyone. I wasn't holding hands. It would never have occurred to me to try and have a confrontation with them [because] you don't want to be arrested for any stupid reason. I never had any problems with the police. I never had problems with anyone anywhere, until that night."

It was on the night of June 27, 1969, when trouble found the 28-year-old Castro, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Harlem. When the police arrived, Castro was inside Stonewall. Like most of the patrons inside the bar he was immediately released, and he waited outside for the others to be let go. "I happened to see a friend of mine inside," he explained, "a young fellow with no ID and he motioned to me like he wanted out. So naturally I tried to help him." Castro quickly got his hands on a phony ID with the intention of getting the ID to his friend, but instead Castro wound up being "pushed back into the Stonewall by these plain clothes cops, and they would not let me back out. At that point they wouldn't let anybody out. It was like a hostage situation."

What happened next, Castro says, was a result of his "reacting on impulse." Handcuffed, Castro was being taken out "arm in arm with the police" to a waiting police van. When they reached the passenger side of the van, Castro stepped up on the running board and jumped back, knocking the two officers to the ground. "I resisted arrest," he recalled. Four more policemen joined in to subdue Castro.

Looking back, Castro said he "never ever gave it a thought of [Stonewall] being a turning point. All I know is enough was enough. You had to fight for your rights. And I'm happy to say whatever happened that night, I was part of it. Because [at a moment like that] you don't think, you just act."

He died on October 9, 2010, at the age of 68. At the time of his death he was living in Madeira Beach, Florida, for two decades, and worked as a cake designer and baker for the Publix supermarket chain. He was survived by his spouse of 31 years, Frank Sturniolo.

Danny Garvin

Danny Garvin
By the summer of 1969, Danny Garvin's brief service in the Navy was a fast-fading, bad memory. "I was a hippie living in an all-gay commune on Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village," he said.

The 20-year-old's typical day began at one or two in the afternoon. "I'd go over to Washington Square Park," Garvin recounted, "and then later go out to the bars and then hang out at someone's apartment. I got the occasional odd job, here and there, selling drugs, living day-to-day."

Garvin remembers the late-1960s as an "exciting time to be a kid on the streets. There was the whole youth generation movement, anti-war demonstrations, women's rights, the sexual revolution, the drug revolution, and all the new music. It was a very 'live and let live' time period. And when you were young -- I was 17 when I first got to the Village -- you had your finger on the pulse. It was great."

While the Stonewall riots left an indelible mark on Garvin -- "you don't forget seeing Molotov cocktails being thrown and kids with blood coming down their faces" -- he doesn't remember anyone talking about the riots for years. "Bars were still raided after Stonewall," he said, "so for me it didn't stand out. It wasn't until the 1980s that I learned there was a spark of interest in Stonewall. I think as we looked back we wanted to be able to point to something where it began, so they grabbed onto this so we could say, 'This is where our history changed.'"

In the years that followed, Garvin "hung out with gay activists," but focused mostly on his work as a geriatric recreational therapist. It was the AIDS epidemic that propelled him to "get more involved politically and I wound up becoming a Capuchin Franciscan Friar at the age of 40," he said. "During the short time I was a friar -- I left after two years and moved to Manhattan -- I founded the first drop-in HIV support group in Yonkers, New York, and helped set up a daycare program for crack-addicted babies."

Garvin also founded "the largest marching contingent" in the annual New York City Gay Pride Parade called Sober Together. "You already had a group of women who marched who called themselves Sober Dykes," he said. "You also had all these other gay sober groups that popped up, so several friends and I put this group together and within a couple of years the contingent was so big they had to put us at the end of the parade. What is amazing to me is that years later people who marched with me back then would say how before they joined Sober Together they had no idea there was any other kind of gay life outside of the bars."

Jerry Hoose

Jerry Hoose
Since the 1980s Jerry Hoose has lived on Christopher Street, just three blocks from the Stonewall Inn. "It was a stroke of luck," he said. But living in the Village was not. "I'd wanted to live down here since I was 10 years old because I thought it was glamorous. I knew I was gay from 12 on and then I really wanted to live in the Village because I'd been reading that this area was the center of gay life."

Hoose left home after high school, "and I pretty much ensconced myself in the gay scene down here," he said. "I was a wild kind of person and lived with this guy and that guy. My entire life existed in a shopping bag and I had fun."

Hoose figured that the Stonewall riots "would be a bleep in history and that once the anger subsided we would go back to the way we were. It was a sad time," he said, "for about a week." Then Hoose ran into a group of people handing out leaflets on Christopher Street. "They were from the Mattachine Action Committee," he recalled, "and they were planning a meeting that night to form a more militant organization."

At the meeting, Hoose found the energy he'd been looking for. "It was wild," he recalled. "It was insane! There were 50 or 60 people and we couldn't even decide what to call the group. Was it going to be 'gay' something or 'homosexual' something. But before the night was over we came together with GLF -- the Gay Liberation Front." For the next year, Hoose was involved in every political action and demonstration led by GLF. "I had a big mouth," he said, "and I was not afraid of anything so I was right in the front lines of whatever action took place."

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt and Jerry Hoose at the White House

For the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots Hoose went to meet the President. At the White House, Hoose recalled, "there were 250 gay leaders from around the country. Ten of us were going to meet him privately and I found out 10 minutes before that I was one of the 10. And why was I one of the 10? Even though it was a celebration for the 40th anniversary of Stonewall only two of us there had actually been at Stonewall. So Tommy Schmidt and I were waiting in the anteroom to meet the President and Tommy and I looked at each other and said, 'Would you have believed 40 years ago that we'd wind up in this position about to meet the president?'"

When Jerry Hoose walked in to meet President Obama, "the President put out his hand to shake mine and said, 'Jerry I'm so proud of what you did,' and then Michelle came over and said the same thing. I get a chill just telling this story."

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt

Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt
In the fall of 1965, 17-year-old Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt left home for Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, to study art, but he was only there one year. After his father wanted Tommy to land a union construction job in New Jersey, Lanigan-Schmidt left home. "I took the train to New York," he said, "and I've been here ever since."

Lanigan-Schmidt's first stop was 42nd Street, where he met other gay street kids. "I learned very quickly," he said, "that I couldn't survive the 42nd Street bunch and made my way to the Village. I hung out with the other runaways who were living hand to mouth, mostly pan-handling, and living wherever I could find a place."

A year later, having decided to continue his studies, Lanigan-Schmidt applied to the famed Cooper-Union in Greenwich Village. For his entrance essay he wrote about "being homosexual and how good that was," he said. "For some reason in my teenage brain I just assumed they would think, 'how great that this kid is comfortable with being himself.'" When he was rejected, Lanigan-Schmidt met with a Cooper-Union administrator who told him that while the quality of his art was up to their standards, he should not disclose his homosexuality.

"I went to the Civil Liberties Union and told them what happened," Lanigan-Schmidt explained, "and they told me to see a psychiatrist. I had a breakdown over this. It was very traumatic.

Lanigan-Schmidt was an eyewitness to the Stonewall riots along with his friend Martin Boyce. The uprising was a transformative experience, he said, but the bar's biggest effect on Lanigan-Schmidt came before the riot. "The Stonewall was totally different because you could slow dance together. Holding on to another person without that fear that someone is going to bash you over the head is totally centering. So going to the Stonewall grounded me and then the Stonewall riots just brought that feeling out into the real world."

Despite his father's wishes and Cooper-Union's searing rejection, Lanigan-Schmidt ultimately wound up making art, and showing in exhibitions from the Venice Biennale to the Whitney Museum in New York. For the past two decades he has been teaching in the MFA department at New York City's School of Visual Arts (SVA). "I'm the gay teacher there," he said, "and I've only had trouble once and the once happened just last year. A student, who had been in the Army, said he wished I didn't make such a big deal about being gay. He wasn't telling me it was bad to be gay. He said it just wasn't such a big deal. And he's right."

Dick Leitsch

Dick Leitsch
Dick Leitsch was listening to the radio while packing for a trip to London when he heard a report about trouble in front of a gay bar in Greenwich Village. "I got in a cab," he recalled, "but couldn't get any closer to Stonewall than 14th Street, so I got out and walked."

As executive director of the Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY), Leitsch was all too familiar with police raids on gay bars. Founded in 1955, MSNY was an offshoot of the original Mattachine Society, which got its start in Los Angeles in 1950."At Mattachine we were just trying to legitimize being gay -- fighting employment discrimination, police entrapment, bar raids -- and the government and the police were trying to make it impossible to be gay," Leitsch said.

MSNY had a membership of nearly 450, and Leitsch ran the organization with 20 volunteers. "We also had this humongous mailing list," he said, "but we kept the list under lock and key because everyone was so paranoid about it getting into the wrong hands. If anyone found out you had anything to do with a group like Mattachine, you could be ruined, so people had good reason to be paranoid."

Returning home in the early morning hours following the first night of rioting, Leitsch canceled his plane tickets and headed for the Mattachine office "to type up my thoughts for the Mattachine Newsletter. I was the first gay person to write about Stonewall and I said it was the best thing that could have happened. I felt like Lenin at the revolution," Leitsch recalled, "but it turned out that for Mattachine it was the beginning of the end."

Before Stonewall, Mattachine was only one of two major gay organizations in New York -- the other was a chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, an organization for lesbians -- and as Leitsch recalled, "we had all kinds of arguments between the different constituents who didn't approve of one another. Then a week after Stonewall there were a thousand groups and each had its own agenda. Some people thought Mattachine should be more militant and others felt the people at Stonewall were just a bunch of dirty hippies and that nice boys didn't riot. It was hell."

Leitsch responded by organizing a series of public meetings sponsored by Mattachine where people "could work things out because nobody knew what to do." During the tumultuous period that followed, when a new generation of gay rights organizations took hold, Leitsch found himself "so burned out from the screaming and fighting" that within a year he went home to Kentucky to find his bearings and to look after his ailing father.

When he returned to New York City years later, Leitsch wrote freelance for GAY, the new weekly newspaper, and "went to rallies and demonstrations to be a part of the crowd, but I was uncomfortable about some of the things that were being done and I left the movement." Still, the 75-year-old Leitsch takes great pride in what he accomplished during the difficult years before the Stonewall riots. "Every once in a while I'll walk into a gay bar and look around and see people being openly gay and being free to do what they want to do and I think to myself, 'I had a big hand in this.' And I feel good about that."

John O'Brien

John O'Brien
Well before the Stonewall riots propelled him into a leadership role in the newly energized gay rights effort in New York City, John O'Brien was already an experienced political activist. Born in Harlem in 1949 to an immigrant maid and union janitor, O'Brien credits his growing up "in old tenements and poverty" as the motivation "to become an activist for change."

O'Brien started early, joining the NAACP at 13 and the Student Peace Union when he was 15. "I worked in numerous Vietnam peace groups over the next 10 years," he said, "and I was on both local and national steering committees, until the end of U. S. military intervention." But that was only a start. O'Brien was also "active in CORE and SNCC in efforts to end racial discrimination in both the South and the North," he said.

For O'Brien, participation in the Stonewall riots and his involvement as a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, proved transformative and not just for himself. "What had been a small isolated gay rights movement that had little support outside its small membership ranks, in a short period of time became a major political force in the United States that created change around the world." But in the moment, O'Brien didn't think that the gay uprising in which he participated "was going to amount to anything. I did not see the Stonewall rebellion as a part of history," he recalled. " I had no idea how important it would be and what it would lead to. I just saw it as an act of rebellion and an expression of anger on my part and other people's part in fighting and showing rage against the police department for its discrimination and the horrors of what it was doing to people like me."

In the immediate aftermath of the Stonewall riots, O'Brien helped arrange a space for the first of the Gay Liberation Front dances and joined a committee that was planning the first Gay Pride March. He recalled, "Before Stonewall, I could never see gay people coming together and organizing or marching down the street for any kind of protest," O'Brien said. He takes pride in the fact that he was "one of the people who called for the first anniversary march, which has blossomed since." Today, more than 80 million people in 20 countries around the world mark the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising with parades and events of all kinds every year.

O'Brien believes that the "growing support for LGBTQ rights today can be traced directly to those participants in the Stonewall uprising who challenged power and authority and demanded respect and rights," he said. "The many people inspired by Stonewall who then became involved in the GLBT movement directly changed the horrible conditions and status of gay and lesbians, replacing fear with pride."

While O'Brien's commitment to progressive causes, including ongoing involvement in the gay and lesbian rights movement, has never waned, he is now investing considerable energy and time in preserving history rather than making it. "As an avid collector of historical materials," O'Brien says, "I'm planning to open a major museum on progressive world history that includes over 100,000 items that I've personally collected, on causes from ancient times to the present."

Seymour Pine

Seymour Pine
Manhattan native Seymour Pine had no reason to believe that the raid he led on the Stonewall Inn in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 would be anything but routine. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) Deputy Inspector had been on numerous raids of gay bars in the past, and the rhythm of those police actions was a familiar one.

"We'd go in," he said, "and the first police officer that went in with your group went to the bartender, flashed his shield and [announced], 'The place is under arrest. When you exit have some ID and it'll be over in a short time.' And that was it. It would take maybe a half hour to clear the place out." But that did not happen at Stonewall.

Although Pine described his experience at the Stonewall Inn on the night of the raid as "like a war," there were also moments of humor. Village Voice reporter "Howard Smith was stuck to me like glue," Pine recalled. "When I got to Howard I asked, 'How do you feel Howard?' And he said 'I feel alright, but I'd feel a lot better if you had the ax and I had the gun.'"

Reflecting on his role as a Deputy Inspector in the Morals Division of the NYPD, Pine didn't think his work should have been the police's responsibility in the first place. He explained, "I was in charge of five precincts that had to do with public morals: gambling, prostitution, liquor, social crimes, [all things] that should not have been part of the police department. But that was the way it was set up."

Pine also regretted the impact his work had on the people who were caught up in the police raids, especially since his own son was around the age of many of the young people who found themselves in the NYPD's crosshairs. "It made you feel lousy really," he said, "because most of them were school kids or those who had just recently gotten out of school. It made you feel like you were spoiling [whatever] fun they had." Pine was also concerned about the impact an arrest might have, because it could last far beyond a single night. "I felt badly for those people who were being arrested and who foolishly gave their right names," he explained. "These kids had no idea that if they got arrested for this, then they couldn't pass the bar and they couldn't be in a lot of professions, because they had a criminal record."

Late in his life, Pine apologized at a public forum for his role in the raid, but said in an interview with historian David Carter, "If what I did helped gay people, then I'm glad." Seymour Pine died on September 2, 2010, at the age of 91.

Yvonne Ritter

Yvonne Ritter
"Butch" Ritter had only one thing in mind when he slipped out of the house on the night of Friday, June 27, 1969, and he took a cab from his parent's house in Brooklyn to the Stonewall Inn. "I went to party," Ritter recalled, "to kinda sorta celebrate my 18th birthday."

Before heading to Manhattan, Ritter stopped first at a friend's house to dress for the evening. "I changed into a black and white cocktail dress," Ritter said, "which I borrowed from my mother's closet. It was mostly black, empire-waisted, with a white collar. I used to dress with a bunch of older queens and one of them lent me black fishnet stockings and a pair of black velvet pumps."

That night the police raided the Stonewall Inn, kicking off the subsequent riots that would last the next several days. "I was scared," Ritter says. "I was supposed to graduate high school that coming week and I wasn't where I was supposed to be, so when I was taken out of the bar and put into the paddy wagon I thought to myself, 'This isn't happening.' I was scared to death!"

By the time Ritter was put in the police van, "there were already more people than could fit," Ritter recalled, "so when they opened the doors to put in some drag queens, some of the other people and I skipped out."

Ritter didn't get far before being spotted by a young policeman. "The cop looked at me and said, 'Hey, you!' and I said, 'Please, it's my birthday, I'm just about to graduate from high school, I'm only 18,' and he just let me go!" Ritter ran for the subway, and all the way home was "scared to death that my father would see me on the television news in my mother's dress." For the next couple of days Ritter kept watching to see if there was anything on the news about the riot, but "there wasn't and I graduated from high school without my parents ever finding out where I'd gone to celebrate my birthday."

Soon after graduating, Ritter started living "mostly full time" as a woman, "but I would go home every weekend, strap my breasts down, and dress like a boy," she said. "I'd been taking hormones by then, but I didn't have my gender reassignment surgery until the mid-1980s." Of the surgery, Ritter's mother was "very accepting," she said. "My father, not so much. He loved me but he was a little less supportive of my transition. He called me 'Butch' until the day he died. It was so incongruous -- with my little Afro and plucked eyebrows, and tank top shirt and my little boobies -- but he called me 'Butch.'"

In the mid-1980s, Ritter returned to school to become a registered nurse. "I work with HIV patients," she said, "and over the years I was involved at the LGBT Community Center in New York doing peer counseling for transgendered individuals."

Fred Sergeant

Fred Sargeant
When Fred Sargeant came upon the first night of the Stonewall riots on his way home from dinner with friends, he was already more than familiar with the issue of mafia-run gay bars and police raids. Sargeant was closely involved with the work of his partner, gay rights pioneer Craig Rodwell, who had opened Greenwich Village's Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop in 1967.

Sargeant and Rodwell returned to the Stonewall Inn for "every night of the rioting," Sargeant said. And Rodwell "started organizing around it right away. Trying to get the press to cover the story, trying to get other people, including some Mattachine members, to come downtown." Rodwell also wrote leaflets and distributed them in the Village. "The leaflets were all pretty much on the same theme," said Sargeant, "about the cops and the corruption and the mafia operating the bars and how gay people were getting caught in the middle." After the riots, while Sargeant went to many of the open meetings "to see what people were talking about doing," he didn't join any of the new groups.

"At a series of meetings that summer we talked about how to bring about something different," Sargeant explained. In 1965, Rodwell had proposed the July 4th "Annual Reminder" gay and lesbian protest marches in Philadelphia, and he and Sargeant were committed to an anniversary march in New York City to commemorate the Stonewall riots. Soon after, Rodwell, Sargeant and a handful of other activists formed the Christopher Street Liberation Day Coordinating Committee to plan for New York City's first annual Gay Pride March in June 1970.

In 1971, Sargeant left New York for Stamford, Connecticut, where he decided to become a policeman a few years later. "I wanted to see if I could make a difference," he said, "and having seen the situation at Stonewall and how the NYPD handled that I thought I could do it differently. Stonewall wasn't the only riot I saw. I'd been caught up in riots in the Village before and watched what the police did."

Sargeant and his partner of more than two decades live in Vermont, where they married in April 2010. The idea that gay people would win the right to marry didn't seem at all outlandish to Sargeant. He said, "One of the things Craig and I talked about in the late 1960s in those god-awful sessions where people would yak, yak, yak, was legalizing marriage for gay couples and it was the theme of one of the banners at that first Gay Pride March. It was but one of many agenda items, so I thought we'd get to it eventually."

Martha Shelley

Martha Shelley
On the first night of the Stonewall riots, 25-year-old Martha Shelley was escorting two out-of-town guests on a tour of Greenwich Village. "They wanted to form a Boston chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis [DOB]," Shelley said, and as the former president of the group's local chapter and their current spokesperson, Shelley was the ideal guide.

"DOB was like a civil rights organization for lesbians," Shelley explained, "as well as a social organization. We had a mailing list of 200 people, but not everybody showed up for the twice-a-month meetings. Basically, DOB's goal was to win social acceptance of lesbians and integrate them into American society." The Daughters of Bilitis was founded in San Francisco in 1955 and the New York City group was one of a handful of chapters across the country.

When Shelley and her guests stumbled across the ongoing riot outside the Stonewall Inn, they didn't realize what was going on. "We saw these people, who looked younger than I was, throwing things at cops," Shelley recalled. "One of the women turned to me and said, 'What's going on here?' I said, 'Oh, it's a riot. These things happen in New York all the time.'"

A day or two later, when Shelley learned about the uprising, "I was tremendously excited by it," she said. "I hadn't had enough sleep for the past couple of days and was feeling feverish and thought we had to have a protest march and be out on the streets. It was like I was on fire with it."

In the days that followed, Shelley attended a meeting that had been quickly organized by the Mattachine Society in response to the riots. "There were 400 people at that first meeting, and I raised my hand and suggested a protest march and everyone agreed with it," she said. "We formed a committee to organize the march, which DOB and Mattachine co-sponsored."

It was at a committee meeting later in the week where Shelley is widely credited with naming the first of the post-Stonewall gay rights groups. "People said I was the one who came up with the Gay Liberation Front name. But I was drinking beer and I really don't recollect that. What I remember saying was, 'That's it! We're the Gay Liberation Front!' That was 'it' because it was like the National Liberation Front of North Vietnam, the Vietcong. They were heroic in the eyes of the left. It was David against Goliath, fighting for their nation and for the liberation of their people, daring to stand up to the most powerful army in the world."

Shelley credits Stonewall with "changing my life. Before the riots I wanted to go around and convince the straight world we were okay," she said. "And after Stonewall we told the straight world that we didn't give a damn what they thought. We were going to do what we were going to do and we weren't going to ask their permission."

Howard Smith

Howard Smith
Village Voice columnist Howard Smith could see the Stonewall Inn's sign from his desk, but until the first night of the riots he had never been inside. As a self described "straight man" writing for one of the era's most liberal and outspoken publications Smith recalled that his boss told him, "'I want you to spot every new trend, especially sex, drugs, and rock and roll.' But [my beat] included almost anything."

The Stonewall Inn wasn't on Smith's radar, however. "This was not one of the key bars [where] some of the more important people in the gay movement would have hung out," Smith noted. "It was a down-at-the-heels kind of place. Lots of street kids. We didn't pay much attention to it."

When Smith saw commotion outside the Stonewall -- he had been working late on deadline -- he grabbed his press credentials and headed down to Christopher Street. "I raced to the Stonewall," he said, "probably thinking it's not going to be anything. There were police cars [and it] got bigger by the minute. It looked like a whole lot of people [who] had no more idea of what was going on than me had immediately joined it. That's what the '60s were like. A demonstration, a riot, I'll stand here!"

Smith soon figured out it was a bar raid, "which wasn't really a story," he said. "All the gay bars were owned by the mafia. They paid cops off, but every now and then they had to do a bust to prove to the community they were controlling vice. It was very common in NYC."

Smith noticed Inspector Seymour Pine, who seemed to be in charge. With the crowd outside growing increasingly restive, Inspector Pine asked Smith if he wanted to join the police inside the Stonewall Inn. As Smith recalled, Pine said, "'Your choice. You can come in with us, or stay here with the crowd.'" Smith went in, becoming the only journalist to witness the Stonewall riots from inside the bar. The article he wrote from his unique vantage point, which was published the following week on the front page of The Village Voice, "has probably been one of the most reprinted of everything I've ever written," he said.

At the time, Smith thought he had a great inside story about a bar raid. "I didn't have any hint of the significance," he said. It would be another few years before Smith realized the historic importance of the uprising. Today, Smith says, "It's rare that I met a gay man who says he wasn't at the Stonewall. There must have been four million people there that night."

Lucian Truscott

Lucian Truscott
Halfway through a two-month stint writing for The Village Voice, Lucian Truscott stumbled on the story that turned out to be "the most famous" of his long writing career. "I'd just graduated from West Point and had two months leave before heading to Fort Benning, Georgia, at the end of July."

The night of the riot, Truscott recalls that "things were happening very, very fast," but by the time Village Voice photographer Fred McDarrah arrived the following night things had quieted down.

"Fred was an impatient guy and famous for taking only one or two shots on any assignment," Truscott said. "So he tells me, 'Pull them together so I can get the shot and go.' The kids weren't doing anything -- and there were some seriously underage kids, 15, 16, 17 years old -- so I got the kids onto the stoop next to the Stonewall and said, 'C'mon boys, give me something,' so they struck poses and Fred took the picture. After that, he was gone."

Group photo outside the Stonewall Inn. Courtesy Getty Images.

Fred McDarrah's photographs are just two of the five extent photos of the Stonewall riots. "If two people had thrown a rock through a window in Harlem, the whole world would have been there taking pictures," he said. "It wasn't anything that seemed headline-grabbing, like a race riot. No one had the foresight to see that gay people rioting because they'd gotten thrown out of a bar was just a metaphor for a much, much bigger thing."

That fall, Truscott was transferred to Fort Carson, Colorado where he was assigned to teach a course in riot control. "I set up a blackboard and drew Sheridan Square and the blocks surrounding the Stonewall Inn," he said, "and used it as an example of how not to do riot control. I was poking fun at the TPF [Tactical Police Force] and how these big Irish and Italian policemen showed up with helmets and facemasks and nightsticks and these bulky outfits and they couldn't run as fast as the kids and they didn't know the streets of the Village. After Friday, you think they'd had all of Saturday to scope out the neighborhood and maybe bring a map, but the kids completely confused them and the protestors were in control of the situation from Friday night when it started until Sunday night when it ended. The protestors were basically non-violent and they used theater to great advantage to make fun of the cops and make their point. The police weren't going to allow them to go into the club to dance, so they were going to dance in the street. And that's what they did."

Doric Wilson

Doric Wilson
A successful New York playwright in the late 1960s, Doric Wilson was inspired by the Stonewall riots to become politically active. "I was big and butch and I could leaflet in places where other people were afraid to go." Wilson joined the newly formed Gay Liberation Front, and then the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), which was founded in late 1969. At GAA, Wilson organized a theater group, but he struggled for income.

"After Stonewall," Wilson explained, "gays could get a license to open bars, and one of my friends opened The Spike." Wilson was hired as manager and head bartender. "I became a bar star," he recalled. "And then a friend opened Ty's on Christopher Street with a big window right on the street. Before Stonewall all the gay bars had been on the side streets and no one had big windows." The Stonewall Inn had none.

By 1974, Wilson formed the theater company The Other Side of Silence. "We were the only game in town. We were doing legitimate plays on subjects that mattered to our audience. Couples would sit in the audience and hold hands and watch plays about the world in which they lived, and they would cry even if it wasn't a sad play, but they cried because they were holding hands in public and seeing plays about their lives."

While Wilson credits Stonewall with "completely changing" his life and giving him direction, he "never thought it would lead to where we are now, where gay people would want to be heterosexuals," he said. "I don't want to live with my married husband in the country with a white picket fence and raise three children. It horrifies me beyond belief! It's fine if other people want it, but it's not for me."

While Wilson says he is disappointed with the evolution of gay life and the direction of the gay civil rights movement since the Stonewall riots, Wilson "couldn't be happier" that his play about Stonewall, "Street Theater," is performed "somewhere every June" to mark the anniversary of the riots he witnessed.


Watch the video: The Real Queens and Kings of Stonewall (August 2022).