LEATHER WISDOM: Stonewall and PRIDE
The 50s and 60s were a difficult time to be homosexual, transexual, or any identity we now consider to fall under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. McCarthyism branded homosexuals as security risks open to blackmail, the FBI and local police departments kept lists of known homosexuals and their hangouts. Homosexuality was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a mental disorder. Police regularly raided, harassed, and closed down establishments catering to gay men and lesbians; and their patrons were exposed in newspapers, which could lead to being ostracized and loss of employment. As early as 1959 in Los Angeles, members of the queer community began pushing back. There are reports over the next decade of acts of civil disobedience, conflict with the police and business owners, and sporadic riots.
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village had enough. Another police raid had broken the dam of fear, anger, and frustration, and members of the gay community in and around the Stonewall Inn spontaneously rose up and said, “enough!” It is said that seven police officers barricaded themselves inside to call for help, and a drag queen used a parking meter torn from the ground as a battering ram to break down the bar doors! Word spread, with the number of protesters and protests growing throughout the city over the next few days. The numbers of gay men, lesbians, people in drag, transgender people, and Leatherfolx stood shoulder to shoulder in numbers upwards of 1,000.
Accounts of the riots are numerous and varied – no one quite agrees on how it started, how it progressed, or even who was there. One thing is certain though: it served as a catalyst for a movement that proclaimed that the queer community should not have to live in fear or in the shadows. Groups began organizing to fight for just treatment and human rights both within society and before the law.
The first Pride march commemorating the riot occurred in 1970. Marchers numbered in the hundreds set off from Greenwich Village; and by the time they arrived in Central Park, their numbers had swelled to the thousands, far exceeding the expectations of the day’s organizers. Chants of, “Say it clear and say it loud! Gay is good and Gay is proud,” rang through the air as they marched. There were marches in LA, San Francisco, and Chicago. These early Pride events were gay liberation or gay freedom marches, precursors to the more celebratory events that would follow later.
Today we continue to commemorate the legacy of the Stonewall Riots every June with Pride month. As this year’s Pride month comes to a close, we reflect on how far we have come and how far we have to go. The Stonewall riots loudly proclaimed that the queer community would no longer live in secrecy nor in shame, that they had the right to live their lives out loud. Forty years later to the day, the Rainbow Lounge in Ft. Worth was raided. Fifty-two years later, many of us are still fighting that same fight, both on our own behalf and on behalf of those who cannot raise their own voices. Let’s tip our hats to those who paved the way and proudly raise our own Pride flags, not just in June but every day of the year.