It isn’t often that we, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) people, have the occasion to mark a historical moment in time. Today is that one special moment upon which our community and most historians agree is the defining event that triggered and birthed the modern universal struggle for GLBTQ freedoms and rights worldwide. On this night, June 27-28, 1969, the patrons at the then illegal homosexual (as our community was then labelled) bar, the Stonewall Inn, located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, USA, rioted in reaction to government’s official discrimination, harassment, intimidation and oppression against same gender loving men and women and set into motion a global civil rights struggle for equality.
On Sunday, June 28, 1970, the very first Christopher Street Liberation Day parade was held. This event was held on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969, and has since that time has evolved into NYC’s Pride Parade. It has been held annually in New York City on the last Sunday in the month of June ever since, most recently this past Sunday, June 24, 2018.
Author’s Note: The heading photograph shows the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City as it appears today. For a brief history of the Stonewall Riots, please refer to my post from last year, “The Stonewall Riots: March To Freedom” Click on the link to visit the post.
“The riots became protests, the protests became a movement. The movement ultimately became an integral part of America.” ~ President Barack H. Obama, on June 24, 2016, announcing the Stonewall Inn becoming a national monument ~
One of the most immediate benefits of the Stonewall Inn Riots was the energy that it created within the then homosexual community not only in the USA but worldwide. The simple act of refusing to be oppressed any longer appeared to have germinated the struggle for equality in a global community often and repeatedly abused, scorned and worse, sometimes even facing death. The downtrodden were empowered by the defiant actions of these homosexuals (in the language of the day) who had finally had enough of the beatings, bullying, marginalization and oppression heaped upon them both individually and collectively. This stigma was sanctioned by society and government, religion and family and most every known institution.
Prior to the Stonewall riots, homosexuality was illegal in every state in the USA with the exception of Illinois. That state had decriminalized homosexuality only in 1961. There was no federal act that outlawed homosexuality but there were numerous statutes that banned same gender loving people from employment, promotion and from otherwise seeking to serve the USA in any official capacity (including the military services).
The rioters at the Stonewall Inn, despite their bravery and courage, ignited a passion and fire that could not be quelled. The road to equality was long and treacherous and filled with many challenges. Yet the GLBTQ community that evolved from that night grew in strength, stamina and perseverance. Somehow, along the way, they managed to acquire some fathful and loyal allies. There was now no turning back the clock.
On June 24, 2016, GLBTQ Community History became a definitive part of this country’s history. The signature of President Barack Obama’s pen made the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village a national monument with the protection of a national park. What began as a police raid against a stigmatized community became an officially designated historical site of pilgrimage and remembrance.
The above placard is located at the Stonewall Inn National Monument
“Stonewall will be our first national monument to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights.” President Obama stated as he affixed his signature to the proclamation. “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.” The designation of Stonewall as a national monument occurred as the National Parks Service (NPS) celebrated it’s centennial year. Jonathan Davis, then director of the NPS elaborated that the centennial mission of his agency is “a promise to America that we will keep not only its sacred places, but also the memory of its most defining moments.”
The Stonewall National Monument includes the bar, a triangular park across the street from it and several surrounding streets. A total of 7.7 acres all managed by the NPS. The site will preserve the many stories of the GLBTQ civil rights movement for future generations.
The story of the Stonewall Riots of June, 1969, and the GLBTQ movement that followed, continue to resonate even today. On the global stage, as well as this country’s national platform, as governments and people change and evolve, so do our interpretations of events and history. We can all imagine that none of the brave participants in the initial riot ever imagined that their actions and deeds would lead to the results that we now have – and how grateful that we all are that they collectively reacted the way that they did.
Now that the Stonewall National Monument officially exists, it is comforting to know that the real stories of what happened that night and beyond is now retained for future generations of all people to absorb. Perhaps this is what’s needed in order for the bigotry and hatred that existed in our past to, at last, be purged from our reality. That would, indeed, be a fitting legacy and tribute to all those brave souls who reacted on that momentous night in June, 1969.