New York City marks 50th anniversary of Stonewall riots

Though its changed ownership over the years, the Stonewall Inn has stood as a symbol of the gay rights movement for 50 years. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

June 28 (UPI) — On June 28, 1969, a New York City police raid on a bar in Greenwich Village sparked riots that would go on to launch the modern gay rights movement. Fifty years later, the Stonewall uprising is still recognized throughout the month of June and this year the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and their allies are hitting the streets again.

Heritage of Pride, the non-profit organization that hosts New York City’s official Pride Month events each June, is holding a rally Friday to “re-imagine” the experience of that day 50 years ago.

The Stonewall riots began in the early hours of June 28, 1969, when police conducted a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar — the largest in the United States at the time. Raids on gay bars were routine at the time, but on this particular night, the patrons of the bar resisted.

A crowd outside the bar grew angry and began throwing objects at police as they attempted,pted to arrest and haul away people from inside the bar. Police barricaded themselves inside the bar to await reinforcements from the fire department and specialists trained in riot control.

Spontaneous demonstrations broke out at the site and the group marched around the neighborhood, convening at nearby Christopher Park.

The riots and demonstrations were held off and on over the course of another five days or so. For many people in the LGBT communities, the Stonewall riots marked the moment when they could move from living their lives in secret to fighting for equal rights and protections.

Earlier this month, the New York Police Department issued a formal apology for the force’s actions during the 1969 riots.

“The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize,” Commissioner James P. O’Neill said during a news conference. “I vow to the [LGBT] community that this would never happen in the NYPD in 2019. We have, and we do, embrace all New Yorkers.”

Friday’s rally outside the Stonewall Inn is expected to feature speakers Barbara Poma, the owner of the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and Harnaam Kaur, a body positivity activist and model.

Two days later is the big event, the Pride March, which begins near Madison Square Park in the Flatiron District neighborhood. Among the grand marshals at this year’s parade are cast members from FX series Pose — Dominque Jackson, Indya Moore and MJ Rodriguez — activists Phyll Opoku-Gyimah and Monica Helms, and members of the Trevor Project and the Gay Liberation Front.

The very first Pride parade was held in New York City one year after the Stonewall riots. That march and others like it across the nation became an annual civil rights demonstration during a time when activists were marching all over the country, speaking out against racial injustice and the Vietnam War.

Since then, the movement has grown. NYC Pride says 550 unique marching contingents participated in the 2018 parade in New York with more than 100 floats.

Demonstrators at the riots noticed a marked increase that first year, too.

“By the time of Stonewall … we had 50 to 60 gay groups in the country,” activist Frank Kameny said according to the National Parks Service. “A year later there were at least 1,500. By two years later, to the extent that counts could be made, it was 2,500.

“And that was the impact of Stonewall.”

Since that time, gay rights movements have notched a number of milestones. The 1970s saw the first openly LGBT Americans elected to public office, including Ann Arbor, Mich., City Council member Kathy Kozachenko; Elaine Noble, a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives; and Harvey Milk, San Francisco city supervisor. The first openly gay elected politician at the federal level was Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to ban discrimination based on sexual preference and in 1995, the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act toughens punishments for those who commit crimes against people based on their sexual orientation.

Regarding relationships and marriage, Hawaii in 1996 said same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples and in 2000, Vermont became the first to legalize same-sex unions.

In 2015, the Supreme Court said the United States cannot ban same-sex marriage in Obergefell vs. Hodges, legalizing the practice nationwide.

Former President Barack Obama in 2016 designated the Stonewall Inn as a national monument, the first to honor LGBT rights. A Democratic-controlled Congress also repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy during Obama’s first time, reversing a military policy in which LGBT service members could not reveal their sexual orientation.

Despite those successes, there have been some speed bumps along the way. The Clinton administration instituted DADT as well as the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex marriage nationally.

And in the military, though former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter lifted the ban on transgender people serving in 2016, the Trump administration announced it was reinstating the ban in 2017.


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