Over 50 years ago, Black and brown LGBTQ+ people led an uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City that marked a critical turning point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. The Stonewall Riots, as the June 28 event is referred to, was sparked by the police brutality experienced by LGBTQ+ people. At the time, the community was heavily criminalized and police regularly forcibly shut down restaurants and bars frequented by LGBTQ+ people or establishments that employed people in the community.
This year marks 53 years since the uprising, and much work continues to be done to protect of LGBTQ+ people. Here, we take a look at the landmark rebellion, remembering the leaders past and present, who continue to pursue justice for all.
During the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The raid was a part of commonplace practice of the police at the time, due to laws that criminalized homosexual acts. Some historians also attribute the raids to the mafia, who owned and operated many bars frequented by LGBTQ+ patrons, blackmailing people by threatening to “out” them. During the raids, patrons often experienced brutality and harassment by the officers.
Several days before, on June 24, 1969, NYPD officers arrested employees and confiscated alcohol in attempts to shut down the bar completely.
Four days later, around 2 a.m. when police raided the Stonewall Inn again, patrons resisted the officers and a crowd of bystanders formed, eventually growing in number and reaching several hundred. According to eyewitness accounts, the riots began after lesbian activist Stormé DeLarverie was brutalized by police officers. People in the crowd started yelling at the officers and Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender women of color, along with DeLarverie, are credited with throwing the some of the first bricks (or other objects) at officers and helping to initiate the rebellion.
The first night of rebellion would set off five consecutive days of protests at the Stonewall Inn with members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies gathering to support the cause.
Black LGBTQ+ people have long led the charge for civil rights. At the Stonewall Uprising, Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and many more people helped lead the resistance that shaped the direction of the modern LGBTQ+ Movement for equality.
Johnson’s story received national media attention in the 2017 documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson, along with Rivera founded an organization to support homeless LGBTQ+ youth, carrying on the activism they both did before the riots.
Johnson was found dead on July 6, 1992 and was initially ruled a suicide, though family friends vehemently disputed the ruling. Through advocacy, her cause of death was eventually changed to “undetermined.”
Rivera passed away in 2002 from liver cancer, after decades of service, activism, and advocacy for LGBTQ+ community.
In 2014, DeLarverie passed away at the age of 93. She’d been known as a self-appointed protector of lesbians living in Greenwich Village, and continued supporting the fight for equality for years after the Stonewall Riots.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion, is 80 years old and still doing the work. For over 50 years, she has been an activist in the community, pursuing justice, and providing resources for transgender and gender non-conforming people. Her organization, House of GG, continues the mission, while creating a safe space for transgender and gender non-conforming people to heal.
LGTBQ+ activists used the momentum of the Stonewall Uprising to reinvigorate direction action through visibility. Since then, securing civil rights for LGBTQ+ people in the US has been hard fought and remains a touchpoint for activism. Legal protections against discrimination, securing affirming and adequate healthcare, and safe housing remain top priorities among acvitivsts. Curbing violence against LGBTQ+ people, especially Black transgender women and transgender people of color, is also of urgent concern.
An array of Black-led LGBTQ+ organizations are pushing forward rights for all, continuing the legacy of Stonewall’s leaders and so many pioneers that came before.
One year after the Stonewall Rebellion, activists held the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march which would eventually lead to the month-long Pride celebration we have today in which LGBTQ+ people are celebrated and the awareness of the movement is elevated.
To learn more about the Stonewall Riots, as well as other documented LGBTQ+ uprisings that helped propel and organize the fight for civil rights, check out the resources below.