The month of June was first officially declared as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” in the United States by President Bill Clinton on June 2, 2000. Subsequently, President Barack Obama declared June as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month” in 2009 and then redeclared it every year thereafter of his two terms in Presidential Office. June was chosen to honor the impact of The Stonewall Riots of late June, 1969.
The Stonewall Riots, also known as the Stonewall Uprising and the Stonewall Rebellion, was markedly the watershed moment that kicked off the movement for LGBT rights in the U.S. The tumultuous period preceding and following the Stonewall Rebellion, with its struggles and victories, constitute a revolutionary time in LGBTQ+ history. Like many important revolutions in history, our revolution began with a rebellion.
the stonewall rebellion
The story begins, as stories of rebellion tend to begin, with tyranny and injustice. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the United States legal system was chock full of unjust homophobic and transphobic anti-LGBT law. Not unlike post-World War II McCarthyism and the practice of government agencies compiling lists of suspected communists and anarchists, the FBI actually kept lists of people known to be gay. State and local governments enacted outrageous legislation to shut down bars and other establishments known to be gay-friendly. There were laws passed banning men from wearing women’s clothing and women from wearing men’s clothing. Gay men and women were outed and exposed in newspapers and frequently lost their jobs as a result. The LGBT population faced continuous fear of harassment, public humiliation, and even the very real possibility of being thrown in jail or into mental institutions. Many made decisions to lead double lives as the LGBT culture and community was forced into the underground.
The 1960’s gay bars and clubs were, in a way, similar to the speakeasies of the alcohol Prohibition Era. The Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village, New York City, was owned and operated with ties to the Mafia. Police were paid off on a weekly basis to avoid raids, but, such raids could not always be avoided. During raids alcohol would be seized and patrons without identification were arrested, as well as, men dressed in drag and women wearing less than the minimum of three pieces of feminine clothing were arrested. These annoyances would usually occur early in the night and following the raids, business would typically resume as normal.
On Saturday June 28, 1969 at 1:20am an unanticipated raid took place. Rumor has it, the Mafia owners of the Stonewall Inn were in the habit of blackmailing the wealthy Stonewall customers. The New York City Police had been unsuccessful in receiving kickbacks from the lucrative extortion and they had come to the decision to shut down the Stonewall Inn for good.
During the police’s procedure tensions mounted with the clientele. Maybe it was something in the air, or perhaps enough had finally become enough, but the Stonewall Inn patrons just weren’t having it with the the police’s customary offensive antics that night. Gay men were pushed, kicked and prodded and lesbian women were inappropriately felt up during frisks by police officers. As arrests were being made, a sizeable crowd amassed on the street outside the bar. Rioting broke out and continued sporadically over the next several days until eventually tapering away on Tuesday July the 1st.
The police and the Mafia’s stranglehold on gay culture would never be the same and neither would the LGBT voice, escalating in volume from a whisper to a proud resounding shout. The early activist groups were formed and solidified like the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. The journey towards equality had begun. The following year on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising the first gay pride marches took place in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.
Today, LGBT Pride celebrations are held worldwide every June as the endeavor for equality continues. It’s true that leaps and bounds have been made since the 1960’s and the 1970’s, but in many ways the human race’s steps away from discrimination, prejudice and heteronormative privilege have so far been baby steps. Nearly half a century ago the LGBT civil rights movement began, not long after the African American Civil Rights Movement. Fifty years may be perceived as a relatively long time, but it is really only a minute blip in the entire span of history. When it comes to being a conscious, conscientious, compassionate and equal society, our society, in this regard, is still in its infancy. It is up to us to progress. This is why LGBT Pride is so important. For far too long identities were hidden and true selves kept secret. Our predecessors fought for the opportunities and freedom we have in the present. So, in their honor this month, be you, be who you are, be proud of who you are, scream it from the rooftops and celebrate Pride.