The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall
rebellion) were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the
gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that took place in the early morning
hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village
neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City.
They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the
gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
Gay Americans in the 1950s and 1960s faced an anti-gay legal system. Early homophile groups
in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favored
non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the
1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social/political movements were active,
including the Civil Rights Movement, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the anti-Vietnam War
movement. These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served
as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.
Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did
were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. At the time, the Stonewall
Inn was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons and was known to be
popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens,
transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless
youth. Police raids
on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the
Stonewall Inn. They attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City
police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and
again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups
to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their
sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.
After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, race, class, and
generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist
organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three
newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay
rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first gay
pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago
commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities.
Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark
the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall National Monument was established at the site in 2016.
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