The 1969 Stonewall Riots

  • Published
  • By Keeley Whetzell
  • Pride Month Committee
What began as a normal night at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village in New York City ended with patrons fighting back against oppression from the New York City Police Department, which began what is now known as "Gay Pride."

At the Stonewall Inn, a known mafia run underground bar, the LGBT community, as well as homeless youth, sought refuge at from the humiliation and brutality from the police department.

According to a website dedicated to the history of the Stonewall Inn, it was illegal to serve alcohol to known openly gay people or for gays to dance with one another in 1969.

The Stonewall Inn was nothing fancy, but it was a safe haven for members of the LGBT community, and was known as the "gay bar" in the city. To gain access, the Inn's security inspected visitors through a peep hole and, unless known to security, access was not given.

The mafia was known to bribe police officers to turn a blind eye and warn them of any raids; however, at 1:20 a.m. on June 28, 1969 during an unannounced raid, eight police officers arrived at the Inn.

Police placed the bar on lockdown and made all the patrons provide identification. Those dressed as females were examined against their will and if found to be male were arrested for dressing as a female.

At first visitors complied. Raids by the police were a common occurrence; however, on June 28 the LGBT members who frequented Stonewall Inn refused to be humiliated any further. That night, some patrons refused to be forcibly subjected to a gender check and were arrested.

After the raid, police ordered wagons to transport those that were arrested. As the police attempted to arrest one woman, allegedly beating her in the process, she shouted to the crowd, "Why don't you do something?"

The crowd then began to fight back. As the crowd grew, suddenly hundreds were involved, revolting against the police and their brutal tactics. Bottles and trash cans were hurled through the air. Patrons attacked the police department wagons, and the riot squad was called to attempt to put the incident to rest.

The LGBT community was tired of the violent acts against them, tired of being treated unfavorably and victimized because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Police were driven away that night, but returned each night following to try and take back the venue and street.

In response, the New York City Police Department was greeted by thousands of people protesting the cruelty and corruption. The riots lasted six days.

In the end, the Stonewall Inn was in ruins, but among all the broken glass and furniture, a fight for equality had sprung into action. The riots made headlines and suddenly the debate about homosexuality was out in the open on newsstands across America.

Many from the LGBT community reported a feeling of freedom that night, a feeling that change was in the air.

Michael Fader, a club patron, was present that night and later recalled, "We felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren't going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around--it's like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that's what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we we're going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was we weren't going to go away. And we didn't."

One year after the riots, thousands from the LGBT community gathered to participate in the very first "Pride" parade, commemorating that eventful night. In the years that followed, more cities opened their streets and allowed LGBT people to march proudly and openly to defend their rights in the fight to be equal citizens.
From the chaotic riots came a united front in the gay community, a passion to continue to fight and be heard in the march for equality.

On June 26, 2013, almost 44 years later, Edie Windsor went directly to the Stonewall Inn after the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Windsor challenged DOMA in the Supreme Court and won.

Throughout June, Hanscom Pride Month committee members remember the LGBT struggle from those early days and celebrate the first special observance of Pride month at Hanscom AFB. It will be a month where organizers recognize the bravery of LGBT servicemembers and celebrate how far America has come from the monumental days of the Stonewall riots.

(Editor's Note: Information from this article was taken from