Knowing what it took to be where we are today not only shows an appreciation and respect to those who came before us, but also helps us to keep our eyes on progress while fighting regression. In the story of LGBTQ rights, there are so many places we can begin this conversation, but we have decided to start with the incredibly pivotal moment of The Stonewall Riots. This historic moment is the culmination of centuries of repression, so please dive deeper than we will go today, but ultimately this pivotal moment lead to the modern gay rights movement as wel know it today.
It is no secret that the treatment of LGBTQ people was less than pleasant in the past. Simply being an LGBTQ person was cause for punishment, imprisonment, torture, and death in the past. Although the criminalization of the existence of LGBTQ people has come to an end, it is important to remember that criminalization of sexuality is still happening today. Technically speaking, Louisiana still has anti-sodomy laws, for example (so, it’s not illegal to be gay; just don’t have sex).
In New York during the 1960’s, “solicitation of same-sex relations” was illegal, therefore any time that two LGBTQ people congregated in public, it could be deemed solicitation. Gay clubs became a refuge for queer people to able to live openly but also became the target of constant police raids. Holding hands, kissing, even dancing with someone of the same sex was illegal; Wearing clothing not aligned with the gender you were assigned at birth was illegal, so places such as this were natural targets.
The Stonewall Inn was owned by the Genovese family, a well known Mafia affiliate, and therefore were often overlooked by the police (please don’t think this was altruism. It is known that the Genovese family simply saw this as a way to exploit the LGBTQ community for money, knowingly severing less than desirable drinks and horrible building conditions - but where would the community go), but on June 28, 1969, the police showed up and began arresting the patrons and employees of The Stonewall Inn.
Fed up with constantly having to deny themselves, those at Stonewall began to fight back. Within minutes, a full on riot with hundreds of people, including gay rights icon Marsha P Johnson, had begun. The night of violence ignited a movement, as thousands of people marched for days following the event.
Although not the official beginning of the gay rights movement, the Stonewall Riots showed the world the support for human rights that existed in this community, and it spread throughout the country.