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Description Stonewall Inn, Christopher Street, NYC...birthplace of the Gay Rights Movement, June 1969.

The Stonewall riots were a series of violent conflicts between homosexuals and police officers in New York City. The first night of rioting began on Friday, June 27, 1969 not long after 1:20 a.m., when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. "Stonewall," as the raids are often referred to, is generally considered a turning point for the modern gay rights movement worldwide, as it is one of the first times in history a significant body of homosexual people resisted arrest.

Police raids on gay bars and nightclubs were a regular part of gay life in cities across the United States, until the 1960s, when suddenly raids on bars in many major cities became markedly less frequent. Most conclude that a series of court challenges and increased resistance from the Homophile Movement can be attributed to the decline in raids.

Prior to 1965, the police would sometimes record the identities of all those present at the raids, which on some occasions was published in the newspaper. Sometimes they would even load up their police van with as many patrons as the van could hold. At the time, the police used any number of reasons they could think of to justify an arrest on indecency charges including: kissing, holding hands, wearing clothing traditionally of the opposite gender, or even being in the bar during the raid.

It is important to look back to before 1969 and examine the changing attitudes in New York towards gay bars and gay rights. In 1965, two important figures came into prominence. John Lindsay, a liberal Republican, was elected mayor of New York City on a reform platform. Dick Leitsch became president of the Mattachine Society in New York at around the same time. Leitsch was considered relatively militant compared to his predecessors and believed in direct action techniques commonly used by other civil rights groups in the 1960s.

In early 1966, administration policies had changed because of complaints made by Mattachine that the police were on the streets entrapping gay men and charging them with indecency. The police commissioner, Howard Leary, instructed the police force not to lure gays into breaking the law and also required that any plainclothesmen must have a civilian witness when a gay arrest is made. This nearly ended entrapment of gay men on such charges in New York.

In the same year, in order to challenge the state liquor authority (SLA) regarding its policies over gay bars, Dick Leitsch conducted a “sip in.” Leitsch had called members of the press and planned on meeting at a bar with two other gay men—a bar could have its liquor license taken away for knowingly serving a group of three or more homosexuals—to test the SLA policy of closing bars. When the bartender at Julius turned them away, they made a complaint to the city’s human rights commission. Following the “sip in,” the chairman of the SLA stated that his department did not prohibit the sale of liquor to homosexuals. In addition, the following year two separate court cases ruled that “substantial evidence” was needed in order to revoke a liquor license. No longer was kissing between two men considered indecent behavior. The number of gay bars in New York steadily rose after 1966.

So if in 1969 gay bars were legal, why was the Stonewall Inn raided that night? John D’Emilio, a prominent historian, points out that the city was in the middle of a mayoral campaign and John Lindsay, who had lost his party’s primary, had reason to call for a cleanup of the city’s bars. The Stonewall Inn had a number of reasons that the police would target it. It operated without a liquor license, had ties with organized crime, and “offering scantily clad go-go boys as entertainment, it brought an ‘unruly’ element to Sheridan Square”.

The patrons of the Stonewall were used to such raids and the management was generally able to reopen for business either that night, or the following day. What made the June 1969 raid different was the death a week earlier of Judy Garland, an important cultural icon with whom many in the gay community identified. The palpable grief at her loss culminated with her funeral on Friday, June 27, attended by 22,000 people, among them 12,000 gay men. Many of the Stonewall patrons were still emotionally distraught when the raid occurred that night, and refused to react passively.

The Stonewall Raid and the Aftermath A number of factors differentiated the raid that took place on June 28 from other such raids on the Stonewall Inn. In general, the sixth precinct tipped off the management of the Stonewall Inn prior to a raid. In addition, raids were generally carried out early enough in the night to allow business to return to normal for the peak hours of the night. At approximately 1:20 AM, much later than the usual raid, eight officers from the first precinct, of which only one was in uniform, entered the bar. Most of the patrons were able to escape being arrested as the only people arrested “would be those without IDs, those dressed in the clothes of the opposite gender, and some or all of the employees”.

Details about how the riot started vary from story to story. According to one account, a transgendered woman named Silvia Rivera threw a bottle at a police officer after being prodded by his nightstick . Another account states that a lesbian, being brought to a patrol car through the crowd put up a struggle that encouraged the crowd to do the same . Whatever the case may be, mêlée broke out across the crowd—which quickly overtook the police. Stunned, the police retreated into the bar. Heterosexual folk singer Dave van Ronk, who was walking through the area, was grabbed by the police, pulled into the bar, and beaten. The crowd’s attacks were unrelenting. Some tried to light the bar on fire. Others used a parking meter as a battering ram to force the police officers out. Word quickly spread of the riot and many residents, as well as patrons of nearby bars, rushed to the scene.

Throughout the night the police singled out many effeminate men and often beat them. On the first night alone 13 people were arrested and four police officers, as well as an undetermined number of protesters, were injured. It is known, however, that at least two rioters were severely beaten by the police. Bottles and stones were thrown by protesters who chanted “Gay Power!” The crowd, estimated at over 2000, “did battle” with over 400 police officers.

The police sent additional forces in the form of the Tactical Patrol Force, a riot-control squad originally trained to counter anti-Vietnam War protesters. The tactical patrol force arrived to disperse the crowd. However, they failed to break up the crowd, who sprayed them with rocks and other projectiles. At one point they were presented with a chorus line of mocking queens, singing:

We are the Stonewall girls We wear our hair in curls We wear no underwear We show our pubic hair We wear our dungarees Above our nelly knees!

Eventually the scene quieted down, but the crowd returned again the next night. While less violent than the first night, the crowd had the same electricity that was seen in the first. Skirmishes between the rioters and the police ensued until approximately 4:00 AM. The third day of rioting fell five days after the raid on the Stonewall Inn. On that Wednesday, 1,000 people congregated at the bar and again caused extensive property damage. Anger and outrage against the way police had treated gay people for decades previous burst to the surface. Leaflets were handed out saying, "Get the Mafia and cops out of gay bars!"

The forces that were simmering before the riots were now no longer beneath the surface. The community created by the homophile organizations of the previous two decades had created the perfect environment for the creation of the Gay Liberation Movement. By the end of July the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was formed in New York and by the end of the year the GLF could be seen in cities and universities around the country. Similar organizations were soon created around the world including Canada, France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

The following year, in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, the GLF organized a march from Greenwich Village to Central Park. Between 5,000 and 10,000 men and women attended the march. Many gay pride celebrations choose the month of June to hold their parades and events to celebrate “The Hairpin Drop Heard Round the World". Many major cities including New York City, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle and Minneapolis hold Gay Pride Marches on the last Sunday of June, in honor of Stonewall. The prominent British gay rights group Stonewall is named after the riots.

The general atmosphere of the days immediately before the riots are dramatized in a 1995 film called Stonewall.


Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad Reprinted from "The New York Daily News," July 6, 1969 By JERRY LISKER

She sat there with her legs crossed, the lashes of her mascara-coated eyes beating like the wings of a hummingbird. She was angry. She was so upset she hadn't bothered to shave. A day old stubble was beginning to push through the pancake makeup. She was a he. A queen of Christopher Street.

Last weekend the queens had turned commandos and stood bra strap to bra strap against an invasion of the helmeted Tactical Patrol Force. The elite police squad had shut down one of their private gay clubs, the Stonewall Inn at 57 Christopher St., in the heart of a three-block homosexual community in Greenwich Village. Queen Power reared its bleached blonde head in revolt. New York City experienced its first homosexual riot. "We may have lost the battle, sweets, but the war is far from over," lisped an unofficial lady-in-waiting from the court of the Queens.

"We've had all we can take from the Gestapo," the spokesman, or spokeswoman, continued. "We're putting our foot down once and for all." The foot wore a spiked heel. According to reports, the Stonewall Inn, a two-story structure with a sand painted brick and opaque glass facade, was a mecca for the homosexual element in the village who wanted nothing but a private little place where they could congregate, drink, dance and do whatever little girls do when they get together.

The thick glass shut out the outside world of the street. Inside, the Stonewall bathed in wild, bright psychedelic lights, while the patrons writhed to the sounds of a juke box on a square dance floor surrounded by booths and tables. The bar did a good business and the waiters, or waitresses, were always kept busy, as they snaked their way around the dancing customers to the booths and tables. For nearly two years, peace and tranquility reigned supreme for the Alice in Wonderland clientele.

The Raid Last Friday Last Friday the privacy of the Stonewall was invaded by police from the First Division. It was a raid. They had a warrant. After two years, police said they had been informed that liquor was being served on the premises. Since the Stonewall was without a license, the place was being closed. It was the law. All hell broke loose when the police entered the Stonewall. The girls instinctively reached for each other. Others stood frozen, locked in an embrace of fear.

Only a handful of police were on hand for the initial landing in the homosexual beachhead. They ushered the patrons out onto Christopher Street, just off Sheridan Square. A crowd had formed in front of the Stonewall and the customers were greeted with cheers of encouragement from the gallery.

The whole proceeding took on the aura of a homosexual Academy Awards Night. The Queens pranced out to the street blowing kisses and waving to the crowd. A beauty of a specimen named Stella wailed uncontrollably while being led to the sidewalk in front of the Stonewall by a cop. She later confessed that she didn't protest the manhandling by the officer, it was just that her hair was in curlers and she was afraid her new beau might be in the crowd and spot her. She didn't want him to see her this way, she wept.

Queen Power The crowd began to get out of hand, eye witnesses said. Then, without warning, Queen Power exploded with all the fury of a gay atomic bomb. Queens, princesses and ladies-in-waiting began hurling anything they could get their polished, manicured fingernails on. Bobby pins, compacts, curlers, lipstick tubes and other femme fatale missiles were flying in the direction of the cops. The war was on. The lilies of the valley had become carnivorous jungle plants.

Urged on by cries of "C'mon girls, lets go get'em," the defenders of Stonewall launched an attack. The cops called for assistance. To the rescue came the Tactical Patrol Force.

Flushed with the excitement of battle, a fellow called Gloria pranced around like Wonder Woman, while several Florence Nightingales administered first aid to the fallen warriors. There were some assorted scratches and bruises, but nothing serious was suffered by the honeys turned Madwoman of Chaillot.

Official reports listed four injured policemen with 13 arrests. The War of the Roses lasted about 2 hours from about midnight to 2 a.m. There was a return bout Wednesday night.

Two veterans recently recalled the battle and issued a warning to the cops. "If they close up all the gay joints in this area, there is going to be all out war."

Bruce and Nan Both said they were refugees from Indiana and had come to New York where they could live together happily ever after. They were in their early 20's. They preferred to be called by their married names, Bruce and Nan. "I don't like your paper," Nan lisped matter-of-factly. "It's anti-fag and pro-cop."

"I'll bet you didn't see what they did to the Stonewall. Did the pigs tell you that they smashed everything in sight? Did you ask them why they stole money out of the cash register and then smashed it with a sledge hammer? Did you ask them why it took them two years to discover that the Stonewall didn't have a liquor license."

Bruce nodded in agreement and reached over for Nan's trembling hands.

"Calm down, doll," he said. "Your face is getting all flushed."

Nan wiped her face with a tissue.

"This would have to happen right before the wedding. The reception was going to be held at the Stonewall, too," Nan said, tossing her ashen-tinted hair over her shoulder.

"What wedding?," the bystander asked.

Nan frowned with a how-could-anybody-be-so-stupid look. "Eric and Jack's wedding, of course. They're finally tieing the knot. I thought they'd never get together."

Meet Shirley "We'll have to find another place, that's all there is to it," Bruce sighed. "But every time we start a place, the cops break it up sooner or later." "They let us operate just as long as the payoff is regular," Nan said bitterly. "I believe they closed up the Stonewall because there was some trouble with the payoff to the cops. I think that's the real reason. It's a shame. It was such a lovely place. We never bothered anybody. Why couldn't they leave us alone?"

Shirley Evans, a neighbor with two children, agrees that the Stonewall was not a rowdy place and the persons who frequented the club were never troublesome. She lives at 45 Christopher St.

"Up until the night of the police raid there was never any trouble there," she said. "The homosexuals minded their own business and never bothered a soul. There were never any fights or hollering, or anything like that. They just wanted to be left alone. I don't know what they did inside, but that's their business. I was never in there myself. It was just awful when the police came. It was like a swarm of hornets attacking a bunch of butterflies."

A reporter visited the now closed Stonewall and it indeed looked like a cyclone had struck the premisses.

Police said there were over 200 people in the Stonewall when they entered with a warrant. The crowd outside was estimated at 500 to 1,000. According to police, the Stonewall had been under observation for some time. Being a private club, plain clothesmen were refused entrance to the inside when they periodically tried to check the place. "They had the tightest security in the Village," a First Division officer said, "We could never get near the place without a warrant."

Police Talk The men of the First Division were unable to find any humor in the situation, despite the comical overtones of the raid. "They were throwing more than lace hankies," one inspector said. "I was almost decapitated by a slab of thick glass. It was thrown like a discus and just missed my throat by inches. The beer can didn't miss, though, "it hit me right above the temple."

Police also believe the club was operated by Mafia connected owners. The police did confiscate the Stonewall's cash register as proceeds from an illegal operation. The receipts were counted and are on file at the division headquarters. The warrant was served and the establishment closed on the grounds it was an illegal membership club with no license, and no license to serve liquor.

The police are sure of one thing. They haven't heard the last from the Girls of Christopher Street. ...........................................................................

This article was posted to GLB News. For more information and for information on other topics of interest, see the Queer Resources Directory.
Date 13 October 2005(2005-10-13), 21:35
Source Stonewall Inn, Christopher St. NYC
Author dbking from Washington, DC

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