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The Stonewall Riots Explained

Stonewall riots

On the eventful day of 28th June, 1969 the stonewall uprising began to take its shape due to a police raid during early hours of the day. This took place in Stonewall inn, a gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. Police officers entered the bar and arrested employees for selling alcohol without a liquor license, roughed up customers, cleared the bar and arrested customers for not wearing at least three articles of “gender-appropriate” clothing. Back in the late 60s, it was common for these raids to happen despite this practice being extremely wrong. That period and preceding decades were not welcoming for queer people. Thanks to activists’ efforts, these regulations were lifted in 1966, and LGBT patrons could now be served alcohol. But engaging in gay behavior in public was still illegal, so police harassment of gay bars continued and many bars still operated without liquor licenses. Needless to say, the LBGTQ+ community had had enough. Within minutes, a full-blown riot involving hundreds of people began. They engaged in what began as a spontaneous, strong demonstration that spawned additional demonstrations over several days. Though the Stonewall uprising didn’t start the gay rights movement. Activism regarding the rights of lgbtq individuals existed prior to 1969. It was a significant force for LGBT political activism, leading to numerous gay rights organizations, including the Gay Liberation Front, Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG (formerly Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Stonewall is seen by many as the beginning of the organized gay rights movement and it is also seen as a symbol of resistance to social and political discrimination against the LGBTQ community. The Stonewall Inn, became the iconic flashpoint that sparked the long, uphill battle towards equality for all members of the Gay community.

What happened during the riots?

The famous riots at Stonewall Inn began when on June 28th, 1969 when four police officers dressed in plain clothes, two on-duty officers on patrol and two detectives stormed the Stonewall Inn and declared this was a raid. They started arresting the main patrons and started pushing others out of the bar. In a matter of minutes, around 200-300 people were thrown outside and bystanders joined in increasing the number to roughly 500 people. A rumour was spread that police was still beating up people inside the bar. A bystander shouted "Gay Power!" and soon anger and hostility began to grew.

Soon now more than 500 bystanders started throwing bricks at the cops and famous individuals like Dane Van Ronk began to join the rioters. This level of anger and rage shown by the "sissies" caught the police off guard for in 1960s America, it was believed that queers were generally weaker and calmer. This was a shock. As hundreds of people shouted "Pigs!" and other insults hurdled on, the rioters lit garbage on fire and threw it inside the bar to suffocate the police. As police reinforcements started arriving to rescue the other officers, the rioters slashed the police vehicles' tires and made the police retreat. This was horrifying for the police and government as many people claimed "no police force was ever forced to retreat but these... These rioters had a rage in their eyes. They wanted to kill." And with that the first day of Stonewall riots came to a conclusion

On day 2, many rioters arrived at Christopher street and surrounded it and many anti police individuals also came and joined the rioters and remarkably there was a very pro homosexual atmosphere something truly rare in America at the time. As thousands of people stood in front of Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street.

As soon as police arrived at night, garbage bags were lit on fire and rocks and junk thrown at police. Police after this were able to capture a few of the demonstrators, other rioters rushed to free them. The next day after an intense night of rioting and conflict, the rioters started distribution leaflets telling gay people to own establishments themselves and to kick out mafia and the police. Soon rage continued to increase ever more and it wasn't too long before a mob threatened to burn down offices in the area. After many such violent face-offs between police and the rioters, the riots were officially concluded. The statement was loud and clear, gays had faced enough oppression and now it was America that would have to bend before force, not the queers.

Aftermath and Conclusion

The victory at Stonewall Inn proved to be a landmark in the history of queer rights and since then, every year Pride Month is celebrated every single year in June to celebrate the victory that took place on Christopher Street. It was the beginning of large and prominent gay rights movements not only in America but across the world. It was due to these movements that LGBTQ+ rights became an even serious issue during the popularisation of Neo liberalism in the 1990s, paving way for more queer individuals to live with lesser problems every year.

Despite all this, about the oppressed winning the fight against the oppressed thing which in all honesty is important to consider, we must also keep in mind that we as a society have come a long way from the time when mere accusation of someone being gay could destroy their life to the present time which is more tolerant. But rights still haven't been given completely. More than half of all countries still criminalise gay marriage and in a very considerable portion of countries, being gay is illegal. Evil practices like conversion therapy and sexually assaulting a person to "cure" them are still if not prominent then somewhat acceptable facts of life for the unfortunate queer individuals living there. While it easy to forget about these problems, we must not forget that people are still suffering. People are still being killed being tortured being forced to do self harm, being harrassed all for something they neither ever chose not have any control over.

With that, The Alpha Theory wishes you a Happy Pride Month !

~ Uddheshya Agrawal & Risika Singh


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