Pride in Protesting: 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising

Today’s post comes from Rachel Rosenfeld in the National Archives History Office.

June is internationally recognized as Pride Month, and this year’s celebrations mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots—the catalyst for the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement.

The Stonewall Inn opened its doors as a gay bar in 1967 in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood on the west side of Manhattan. The Inn’s initial clientele were mostly white gay men, but by 1969 it catered to people from all walks of life. Puerto Rican and African American gay men, drag queens, and queer youth, many of whom were kicked out of or ran away from their homes, found solidarity at Stonewall.

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A view of Stonewall Inn Historic Site 1999. (National Archives Identifier 75319963)

Places like the Stonewall Inn were safe havens from anti-LGBTQ+ policies enforced across America. Laws allowed LGBTQ+ people to be evicted from their homes, fired from jobs, imprisoned, and confined to mental institutions. New York also outlawed the sale of alcohol to gay people. Bars that disobeyed these laws were frequently raided by police who unjustly harassed, assaulted, and arrested queer customers. Such oppression led many queer people to mask their true identities in public and encouraged them to flock to private spaces like Stonewall.   

On June 24, 1969, the Public Morals squad of Manhattan’s First Police Division raided the Stonewall Inn. The police made several arrests and confiscated liquor. However, once the bar reopened the next day, the cops planned a surprise raid that upcoming weekend.

On June 28 at approximately 1:15 a.m., undercover NYPD officers raided Stonewall. Countless people “resisted the police by refusing to show identification or go into a bathroom so that a police officer could verify their sex.” Arrested folks were cheered on by crowds shouting “Gay Power!” and “We Want Freedom!” as a means of protest.

As the police arrested employees and patrons, the crowd’s angry chants turned into physical resistance. The famous African American transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson is credited as a leader of the Stonewall riots, and firsthand accounts report protesters throwing objects like pennies and beer cans in frustration at the cops.

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Co-founder of STAR, Marsha P. Johnson protesting for gay students at New York University, 1970. (Courtesy of the New York Public Library)

Officers were forced back into the bar by the crowd until riot-control reinforcements arrived several hours later, but protesters refused to disperse until 4:30 am. The riots continued for several days and expanded to the neighborhoods surrounding Christopher Park. By the final day of the riots on July 3, the crowd exceeded several thousand people.

Stonewall rioters’ fight against discrimination inspired LGBTQ+ communities across the country to organize and protest. Gay rights activist Franklin Kameny recalled, “by the time of Stonewall, we had fifty to sixty gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least fifteen hundred.” Stonewall led to the creation of such groups like the Gay Activists Alliance, the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), and the Gay Liberation Front.

On the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in 1970, the first gay pride parades were held in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Pride marchers and allies filled city streets to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and raise awareness of their fight for equality. From Tokyo to Tel Aviv, the number of international pride parades exponentially has grown every year since the inaugural marches of 1970.  

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National Archives employee Jeff Reed and his daughter, Sydney, at the 2019 Capital Pride Parade. (Courtesy of Jeff Reed, National Archives)

In the U.S., Christopher Park and the Stonewall Inn remain an LGBTQ+ stronghold and sites for community gatherings, protests, and festivities. Shortly after the riots in 1969, both areas were added to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Greenwich Village Historic District. The National Park Service later recognized the area’s historic importance and listed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Just one year later, the area surrounding the Stonewall Inn was named a National Historic Landmark—the first landmark added for its significance to LGBTQ+ history.

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Stonewall National Monument Boundary Map, 2016. (Barack Obama Presidential Library, National Archives)

On June 24, 2016, the 47th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the site reached another milestone. President Barack Obama established the first LGBTQ+ U.S. National Park site on the 7.7-acre surrounding the Stonewall National Monument. He proclaimed, “I believe our national parks should reflect the full story of our country, the richness and diversity and uniquely American spirit that has always defined us. That we are stronger together. That out of many, we are one.”

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Pride flag given to President Obama at the White House LGBT Pride Reception, 2016. (Barack Obama Presidential Library, National Archives)

The LGBTQ+ community’s resistance to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity began long before the Stonewall Uprising and continues today. On this 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the National Archives pays homage to those who risked their lives protesting for their basic human rights. We take great pride in preserving the history of this groundbreaking event in America’s battle for LGBTQ+ equality.

This June the National Archives is celebrating National Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, which honors the important contributions that LGBTQ+ Americans have made to United States history and culture. Visit the National Archives website for more information on our related holdings or visit our Tumblr page Discovering LGBTQ History

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