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27th Jun 2019

50 years since Stonewall: 5 things to know about the rebellion that galvanised the gay rights movement

Jade Hayden



On June 28, 1969 the Stonewall riots began.

During the early hours of the morning, a police raid on a small bar in Greenwich Village in Manhattan led to two nights of uprising by the gay community.

The event was a turning point for gay rights in the US and, by extension, many other countries around the world.

And so, to mark 50 years since the Stonewall riots, here are five facts you may or may not have known about the rebellion.

1. A trans black woman was at the frontline of the riots

There has been much debate surrounding who threw the first brick at Stonewall, but amidst much of the uncertainty, the fact that trans women of colour were at the centre of the rebellion remains.

Among them was Marsha P Johnson, a black transgender woman and drag queen, who was said to have “been in the vanguard” of those fighting police brutality against the LGBTQ+ community.

Immediately after the riots, Johnson became one of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front, a group advocate for the sexual liberation of young people.

She also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) alongside Sylvia Rivera, a fellow trans woman of colour who was at the centre of the riots.

2. The inn was popular among marginalised people within New York’s gay community 

Prior to the gay rights movement, not many establishments in the States were open to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

In the 60s, those that were tended to be bars or clubs – with the Stonewall Inn being one of the more prominent ones in NYC.

The bar prided itself on being open to all members of the community, more specifically those were already marginalised within their own groups such as poor people, homeless young people, transgender people, and drag queens.

The inn, like many others operating at that time, provided gay people with a safe space to be themselves.

3. It was also owned by the Mafia 

Before 1966, the site of the Stonewall Inn operated as a heterosexual bar and club.

After that time, the crime family who owned the premises decided to invest and turn it into a gay bar, safe in the knowledge that they could pay-off police officers on the regular.

The inn had no liquor licence and so was plagued by frequent raid by police that had a tendency to turn brutal and violent.

The Mafia opted to pay off police where they saw fit, but ultimately their exploitation of the gay community led to a strong pushback by the community before and after the riots as they attempted to keep the mob out of their safe spaces.

4. The riots led to the first Gay Pride marches in America

On June 28, 1970 the US’s first Gay Pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

They marked the one year anniversary of the riots and saw thousands of members of the LGBTQ+ community take to the streets, carrying banners and signs, to shout their sexuality.

The New York parade covered over 50 blocks and took nearly less than half of the designated time to march because of excitement – but also apprehension.

“There was little open animosity,” reported the New York Times, “and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign ‘I am a Lesbian’ walked by.”

The next year, many other US states, including London and Paris, joined the States in hosting their own Pride parades.

5. The Stonewall Inn is now a national monument 

And you can still get a drink in there too.

In June 2016, then president Barrack Obama made the Stonewall Inn a designated National Historic Landmark under the care of the National Park Service.

It’s also still operating as a bar and club, so you can still head down there and check out the site in all of its cultural, historical glory.