America was starting to leave behind the decades of political unrest and social inequality, the turbulent 60’s gave the United States exactly what they needed: a fresh start. They were running head first into an era that would change America forever. With the Civil Rights Movement taking off, the shift in population as the middle class fled from the cities and entered the suburbs, and the election of the youngest president, John F. Kennedy, America could not have seen a more hopeful future. However, the 60’s being symbolised as a time of innocence soon shifted towards an era of protest. After President JFK’s assassination in 1963, the hope of the young generation had deteriorated and the social hierarchy was struggling more than ever. At the turn of the 70’s the Civil Rights Movement had lost its leader and a new social injustice had sprung into the lives of Americans. No one comprehended that the riots that took place at 3 am on June 28, 1969 would be the start of a movement that was not going to back down.
The Stonewall Inn, was a gay bar located in the Greenwich Village of lower Manhattan. Although the bar itself wasn’t extraordinary, its significance was-- it was the start of the gay liberation movement. The bar was raided almost monthly, the reasoning was always along the lines of; they didn’t own a liquor license, they had no running water behind the bar, and there were no fire exits. Other than those problems, the bar wasn’t used for anything other than the acceptance of the gay community. It was the only bar in New York City where gay men and women were allowed to dance without being verbally and physically abused. On June 28, 1969 just after 3:00 am, a once normal police raid of the Stonewall Inn grew violent as protesters realised that they have had enough. Even though the raids were legally justified, the gay community of New York was sick and tired of the police department only targeting gay clubs. A majority of which had already been shut down due to these unnecessary raids. The crowds surrounding the bar watched without a sound as the Stonewall’s employees were handcuffed and taken into custody, but when three drag queens and a lesbian were dragged into a police car the crowd standing by erupted. They began throwing bottles, pennies, and then bricks at the policemen, forcing them to take shelter inside the club until other reinforcements arrived to disperse the mob. By 4:00 am the streets were cleared, thirteen people were taken into custody, several in the crowd were hospitalised, and four police officers were injured. The Stonewall Inn was shattered, nothing in the bar survived the protest, but the spirit of the gay community could not have been stronger. Over the following weeks protests sprung up in and around New York; the officers efforts to drive fear into the the gay community was more than unsuccessful. The gay community was fighting back now, and was not planning on stopping any time soon. The famed “Stonewall Riots” were followed with organisations supporting this cause all over the country, awakening the first major historical protest on behalf of Americas LGBTQ+ community.
The Foundation of Discrimination
Being part of the gay community was something that was not considered normal until recently. During a time of so much unrest, regarding the segregation of Blacks and Whites and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. the last thing that the streets of America wanted was another protest against the social hierarchy. It was stated that the reason the police had chosen the Stonewall Inn to raid was because they weren’t licensed to sell liquor and that they had many other violations, but if this was the true reason then the arrest of three drag queens and one lesbian were not necessary at all. The idea of change and controversy in a time that was already so unstable brought fear into the hearts of the government and police force. Especially because it was challenging a very strong belief at the time: Christianity. Although this series of riots and protests that went on for too long could have been considered violent and unjust, something like this needed to happen to start the fight for equal rights for everyone. There was no more space for inequality.
Fighting for a World of Difference
Nothing changed overnight, the community still faced dreadful verbal and physical abuse from people who thought they were above them just because they were attracted to the opposite sex. In the days following the riots, hundreds filled the streets surrounding the Stonewall Inn and started singing and chanting in hopes that someone will hear their call for help. Initially the crowd was all homosexual, but as more people started arriving at the scene, the crowds grew larger and larger. People became curious to what was happening and started showing their support by cheering on the protesters or joining them. The crowds, no matter how large they got, were orderly and limited themselves to singing and shouting slogans such as “Gay power,” “We Want Freedom Now,” and “Equality for Homosexuals.” People did not change the way the gay community was viewed for a long time after these riots; people were still afraid to be themselves openly. However, the media was finally publicising these riots, in and around the United States people were seeing that gay was okay. Multiple people showed their own support by protesting within their countries. Their relentless fight for their rights paved the way to an equal America.
Have they Won their Battle?
It’s so hard to imagine police handcuffing, harassing, and arresting people for simply being openly gay, but the sad truth is that is what happened routinely before the Stonewall Inn’s members fought back. The younger generations who have grown up with increasing legal protections and rights for the LGBTQ+ community are living a world that those protesters in 1969 were fighting for. Gay marriage was finally legalised June 26, 2015. Even though it took 46 years for their rights to be recognised, it is a milestone that would have never happened without the Stonewall Inn’s members fighting for what they believe in. Things are not perfect yet and it isn’t likely that they will be for a while. It is definitely remarkable that America has come so far, but recently something sent us back to the night of the Stonewall riots. On 12 June, 2016, Omar Seddique Mateen, a 29 year old security guard entered a nightclub with a handgun and a military-style-rifle. He was a first-generation American, born to Afghan Muslim parents in Queens and was educated in the American public high school system. He entered the “Pulse” nightclub which is a very popular gay club in Orlando, Florida, and unleashed his anger on the gay community. The attack at the nightclub is considered the deadliest mass shooting in recent American History, leaving 49 people dead and dozens more wounded. But this has not and will not stop the LGBTQ+ community from fighting. They came from nothing to having gay marriage legalised in America, and they will stop at nothing until they get the equal rights they deserve.