The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall Inn is located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. These riots were the first instance in American history when people in the homosexual community fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted sexual minorities. The riots have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.
American gays and lesbians in the 1950s and 1960s faced an anti-homosexual legal system.[note 1] Early homophile groups in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society. They favored non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the 1960s were very contentious as many social movements were active. These social movements included the African American Civil Rights Movement, the Counterculture of the 1960s, and antiwar demonstrations. Along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, these movements served as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.
Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. The Stonewall Inn at the time of the riots was owned by the Mafia. It was popular with the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, hustlers, and homeless youth. Police raids on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the Stonewall Inn, and attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.
After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, class, and generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first Gay Pride marches took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities. Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark the Stonewall riots.
- Except for Illinois, which decriminalized sodomy in 1961, homosexual acts, even between consenting adults acting in private homes, were a criminal offense in every U.S. state at the time the Stonewall riots occurred: "An adult convicted of the crime of having sex with another consenting adult in the privacy of his or her home could get anywhere from a light fine to five, ten, or twenty years—or even life—in prison. In 1971, twenty states had 'sex psychopath' laws that permitted the detaining of homosexuals for that reason alone. In Pennsylvania and California sex offenders could be committed to a psychiatric institution for life, and [in] seven states they could be castrated." (Carter, p. 15) Castration, emetics, hypnosis, electroshock therapy and lobotomies were used by psychiatrists to attempt to cure homosexuals through the 1950s and 1960s.(Katz, pp. 181–197.)(Adam, p. 60.)
- Carter, p. 143.
- Carter, p. 15.
- Carter, pp. 79–83.
- "Pride Marches and Parades", in Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America, Marc Stein, ed. (2004), Charles Scribner's Sons.