The Stonewall Riot on June 28, 1969 marked thebeginning of the modern gay liberation movement in the United States.
After theriot, activists and organizations worked together in a militant manner morethan in previous decades to gain Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT)rights in the United States. Across the country, the LBGT community usedStonewall as a foundation to remind society about gay resistance and the needfor equality. As the LBGT community struggled for equal rights, they alsosought to understand their past and identity. The social and political climate priorto Stonewall caused many to keep their sexuality inward and also prevented awritten record or the creation of an identifiable LBGT past. Therefore,academics and nonacademics worked to reveal a past largely hidden from history.They employed public history techniques to create archives and urbanpreservation projects to save their tangible past. This thesis identifies howthe creation of these movements where sparked by outrage and increasedcomradery post stonewall riots, in turn leading to a unified coalition tobetter LGBT life in the states.
Stonewall was a decisive moment in LGBT historyand remains a significant influencer in modern society. In many ways the homosexualexperience in America is inherently different from that of any other minoritygroup. Unlike with ethnic groups, lesbian and gay identity is not typicallypassed on from parents to their children. As such the perpetuation ofhomosexual history and identity is typical only later in life. Where racial andethnic groups may learn strategies for resisting racism from a young age, lesbiansand gay men must learn to navigate heterosexism and repressive society on theirown, usually until their coming of age. In addition, since homosexuality isspread across ethnic, racial, and class lines the creation of a singular queeridentity is nearly impossible.
Despite all this lesbians and gay men haveclearly organized on the basis of their sexual identity throughout modern Americanhistory. The sparks of the LGBT rights wave is seeded deep in the repressive,homophobic period of the 1950’s and early 60’s. The LGBT movements spiritualpredecessor, the homophile movement of the 1950’s came about during a time thatorganized political and social activity by homosexuals was extremely unlikely. Themid twentieth century was not a welcoming time for LGBT Americans. Strings oflaws specifically targeted homosexuals to ensure police the power to abuse anddefile any attempt by homosexuals to lead a normal life. For instance,solicitation of homosexual relations was illegal in New York, as well as in therest of the country, as sodomy laws asserted the relations between two men ortwo women was inherently unnatural and thus was seen as a case of nonconsensualassault. Case like that of People v. Williams andKrause were common place, inwhich two men would be arrested under sodomy laws and prosecuted.
The indictmentswould then be worded to suggest that the case involved each male assaulting oneanother. In 1923 a supplemental law to the sodomy law was enacted in the stateof New York which made it illegal to frequent or loiter in any public placesoliciting men for the purpose of committing a crime against nature and similarlewdness. Furthermore, criminal statutes in New York allowed police to arrestpeople wearing less than three articles of gender appropriate clothing. Additionally,the New York State Liquor Authority penalized and shut down establishments thatserved alcohol to known or suspected LGBT individuals, stating that the mere gatheringof homosexuals was disorderly. Other laws made it illegal to engage in certainhomosexual behavior in public, such as: kissing, holding hands, or dancing withsomeone of the same sex.
Police raids of known homosexual bars or clubs werealso common place. President Eisenhower himself banned the employment of gaymen and women within the federal government and government contractors, andordered for the purge of gay men within the military. Despite all this, orperhaps in spite of it, homophile organizations gained much traction in the1950’s. The Mattachine Society formed by Henry Hay in 1950 comprised the first recognizedgay rights organization. Proponents worked towards gay equality and visibilitywithin American society through activist manifestations and protests. TheSociety distributed flyers, combatted entrapment, and published ONE, a magazinerevolving around the American homosexual identity. Then in 1955 the Daughtersof Bilitis formed as a social club to provide lesbian women a place to socializewithout inhibitions and aimed to minimize the boundaries between lesbians andheterosexual women. These groups pioneered LGBT activism, and although theircontributions were great their accomplishments for the gay community wereminimal.
The political and social climate in the post war era suppressed thehomosexual community’s ability to address gay rights. Historian Martin Dubermansuggests that members were not ready to insist that homosexuality was neitherabnormal nor unnatural, which prevented them from rallying. This dilemma stemsfrom the lack of a physical demarcation of homosexuality. Unlike other minoritygroups, in which most all members shared a common classifiable trait such asskin color or religion, the homosexual community had no common trait other thanbeing homosexual. This meant that deception was easily employed as mosthomosexual men and women could ‘pass’ for heterosexuals thus subverting theprejudice that their identity entailed.
The homophobic climate in the U.S.inhibited homosexuals from creating a place in society so they were forced tocongregate in secret, usually within mafia owned bars that paid of local policeprecincts to avoid raids or require an alcohol license.
These bars and inns wereprevalent in poorer districts of New York such as Greenwich Village The Stonewall Inn was a cheap straightbar and restaurant located in the heart of Greenwich Village. In 1996 theGenovese crime family, who controlled most gay pandering bars in the area, purchasedand renovated the rundown bar to cater to shunned gay clientele. The StonewallInn quickly became a staple of Greenwich Village. The bar was spacious and cheapto enter, as well as welcoming to drag queens who were heavily looked down uponeven within the LGBT community. It also allowed for dancing, which had become ararity in such establishments. The culmination of all these factors made thebar exceptionally popular within the community, however it also drew attentionfrom New York’s Sixth Police Precinct which served jurisdiction over the area.
Police raids occurred frequently, still corrupt cops would normally warn barowners prior to raid thus allowing owners to stash the alcohol and hide anyother illegal activity. Though this was not the case the morning of June 28th,police officers raided the bar and arrested thirteen individuals, among thembar employees and those that did not conform to the states gender appropriate clothinglaws. Bar patrons manifested outside as the 13 were led into police vans