Posts Tagged ‘Stonewall’


When I began researching for my semester project on the Stonewall riots of 1969, it became clear to me based on the reactions of a handful of my friends that many people of my generation have no idea what these events actually were. After all, I was only introduced to the riots four years ago in my freshman writing seminar, which just happened to focus on the Gay Liberation Movement and the New Right.

 However, an event as significant as Stonewall should never be swept under the rug. A summary for those who are unfamiliar with the story:

 The Stonewall riots began on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Police raided the popular gay bar (which was not an uncommon practice for the times) and for the first time, the men and women fought back. When word spread about the riots, gay men and women from around the city came to join the fight. The following night over 1,000 protestors came to the bar, and various demonstrations came in the days following.

 The riots sparked an immediate response from the LGBT community that would last for several days. But more importantly, the riots that occurred at Stonewall Inn are seen as the catalyst for the Gay Rights movement in the United States and generated the first big push for a new kind of civil rights. But even now, 43 years later, the anniversary of Stonewall will always be a constant reminder of everything that has been achieved in the LGBT movement, and likewise everything that is still being fought for.

The celebrations of the 40th anniversary, just three years ago, show how Stonewall’s legacy still exists today. The iconic anniversary was not neglected in New York City, as celebrations took place throughout the week. Alumni from the uprising were invited to attend the annual rally in Bryant Park. The annual women’s dance “Rapture on the River” and the men’s “Dance on the pier” both hosted celebrity guests and performers, and the Center’s Garden Party served as one of the weeks biggest events, featuring cuisine from many of the city’s top restaurants. Also, in a time where bullying is becoming a more prominent subject in the media, the Stonewall Inn also played host to a fundraiser called Fusion for the Anti-Violence Project.


Rounding off the celebrations was the Gay Pride Parade on June 28th. While this event has always marked the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, 40 years later this march had a new significance for New Yorkers. The hundreds of thousands of marchers and observers certainly used the day to celebrate their accomplishments, but also to continue the fight for the state to legalize same-sex marriage, which at the time it had not yet done.

Even President Obama took note of the 40th anniversary of Stonewall by inviting members of the LGBT community to the White House for a speech and presentation. He thanked the crowd for the “work you do every day in pursuit of equality on behalf of the millions of people in this country who work hard and care about their communities — and who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.” He then introduced and thanked two of his guests who had actually participated in the riots 40 years prior. “It’s the story of an epidemic that decimated a community — and the gay men and women who came to support one another and save one another; and who continue to fight this scourge; and who demonstrated before the world that different kinds of families can show the same compassion and support in a time of need — that we all share the capacity to love.” He concluded by noting that while we have witnessed monumental changes since that fateful day, we must continue to make progress and that he will continue to be an “ally and champion” in that fight.

So here we are 43 years later. The achievements that have been made for the LGBT community and civil rights are astounding. For New Yorkers, same-sex marriage was finally legalized on July 24, 2011. But the national landmark in Greenwich Village stands as a constant reminder that the fight for equality is not yet over, and the legacy of Stonewall lives on.



Collins, Dan. “Gay Pride Parade Marks 40th Anniversary Of Stonewall Riots.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 June 2009. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/28/gay-pride-parade-marks-40_n_222010.html&gt;.

“Lordy Lordy, Look Who’s 40: NYC Celebrates Stonewall.” Advocate.com. Here Media Inc., 06 May 2009. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. <http://www.advocate.com/travel/2009/05/06/lordy-lordy-look-who%E2%80%99s-40-nyc-celebrates-stonewall&gt;.

“Obama Speech on Stonewall Anniversary.” EQualityGiving. N.p., 29 June 2009. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. <http://www.equalitygiving.org/Obama-Speech-Stonewall-Anniversary&gt;.

“Stonewall Riots: The Beginning of the LGBT Movement.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Leadership Conference Education Fund, 22 June 2009. Web. 02 Oct. 2012. <http://www.civilrights.org/archives/2009/06/449-stonewall.html&gt;.


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The Red Dot Collection (photo by Saskia Scheffer, from Lesbian Herstory Archives website)

The story of how Lesbian Herstory Archives acquired “The Red Dot Collection” begins in Provincetown circa 1980. While on vacation, two of the archive’s cofounders, Joan Nestle and Deb Edel, happened to see a white index card tacked to a wooden lamp post. Printed on the card were the words “DOB Library for Sale” along with the name and address of a Jane Kogan.

“We just stared, what had we found,” Joan Nestle explained in a recent email.

Founded in San Francisco, the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB, for short) was the first lesbian organization in the United States. As their 1956 statement of purpose explains, DOB was a women’s organization committed to the integration of “the homosexual into society” (Gallo 11). > Part of the impetus behind the creation of this organization was the extreme lack of social spaces, with the sole exception of bars, to meet and congregate with other lesbians. In addition to serving this social function, DOB was equally committed to educating individual lesbians as well as society at large. To this end, the creation and maintenance of a library of relevant literature was specifically stipulated in the statement.

The New York Chapter

In May 1957, DOB’s national newsletter, The Ladder, published a letter (anonymously) penned by the playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Hansberry’s blurb invited fellow readers to comment on the absence of DOB from New York City. She writes: “Considering [gay and lesbian organizations] Mattachine, Bilitis, ONE; all seem to be cropping up on the West Coast rather than here where our vigorous and active gay set almost bump into one another off the streets– what is it in the air out there? Pioneers still? Or a tougher circumstance which inspires battle? Would love to hear speculation, light-hearted or otherwise” (L.H.N. 26). >

An overdue New York chapter was founded the next year by Barbara Gittings and Marion Glass. Gittings recalls that eight or ten women showed up for the first meeting (Katz 224-225). > Initially, the tiny chapter of DOB shared an office in a loft building with the primarily gay male organization Mattachine. For the next 13 years, DOB bounced around the city wherever affordable office space was available. The chapter’s apparent final location was in a loft on 141 Prince Street, one block outside Greenwich Village, or as their newsletter aptly termed it “the new Village” (DOB 1). This 4,000 square foot loft included a partitioned-off office and library, kitchen, and a slow dance room to accommodate the organization’s monthly socials.

Gay Liberation and the Lesbian Feminist Movement

Despite the chapter’s slight geographic remove from the Village proper, DOB’s chapter is an integral part of Greenwich Village’s lesbian and gay history. The anecdote that best exemplifies this point is the New York chapter’s (too often ignored) involvement in the Stonewall Riots. On June 27, 1969, a twenty-six year old member of DOB escorted a couple from out of town on a guided tour of Greenwich Village’s bars. Martha Shelley remembers: “While we were walking around, we saw these people who looked younger than I was throwing things at cops. One of [the women] turned to me and said, ‘What’s going on here?’ I said, ‘Oh, it’s a riot. These things happen in New York all the time” (Shelley 33). >

What these women had unwittingly witnessed was the beginning of the Stonewall riots. Shelley (along with the rest of the city) soon became aware of the ongoing demonstrations, catalyzed by a routine police raid of the Stonewall Inn. In response, she helped spearhead an effort to organize a protest march co-sponsored by DOB and Mattachine. The planning meetings for this march also led to the creation of the short lived, but important Gay Liberation Front (GLF), which in turn spawned a multitude of splinter groups including the Radicalesbians. Out History has a nice article that covers this in more depth or you can read Radicalesbians’ “The Woman Identified Woman” here.

It is important to acknowledge these threads of continuity between the Daughters of Bilitis and the subsequent gay liberation and lesbian feminist movements of the 1970s. Too often, if DOB is written about at all, it is written off as a conservative and assimilationist minded organization that was wholly displaced by more radical movements. DOB’s involvement in Stonewall and, for that matter, Lesbian Herstory Archives eventual acquisition of their library attests to a more complex reality.


Last I mentioned them, Joan Nestle and Deb Edel were staring at a “magical little index card” with Jane Kogan’s contact information. The cofounders were immediately struck by the historical significance of this library to their growing collection of lesbian materials. At the time, Lesbian Herstory Archives had been around for six or seven years, depending on whom you ask. The seed was first planted in 1973, when a consciousness raising group comprised of women who met at the first conference of the Gay Academic Union came up with the idea for a lesbian archive. This group began actively collecting material in 1974 and the archive opened its doors to visitors a few years later. Joan Nestle’s Upper West Side apartment doubled as the Lesbian Herstory Archives until the archive moved into its own Park Slope brownstone in 1993.

DOB’s library was successfully purchased by Lesbian Herstory Archives for $1500, a sum that was raised through a combination of individual donations and a grant from the Cowan Family Foundation. Jane Kogan packaged the books in twenty liquor carton sized boxes and sent them from her Provincetown home back to the city where the collection had originally been assembled. The frozen in time library of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis is now known as “The Red Dot Collection” (so named because of the red dots on the spines of all the books). Visitors to LHA have had the opportunity to view this collection onsite for more than thirty years. For the benefit of remote researchers and interested browsers alike, this library is also about to become a digital resource. I am excited to announce that I am currently working with Lesbian Herstory Archives to digitize covers of selected books in this unique and fascinating collection.

Click here for complete Works Cited

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Sylvia Rivera (Image courtesty of NYPL)

One year after the Stonewall Rebellion, on June 28th 1970, the Gay Activists Alliance hosted a successful dance in the basement of Weinstein Hall, a New York University residence building located on West 11th Street. At this time, Greenwich Village was home to the largest gay, lesbian and transgender community in the world, and was in dire need of social services, as well as spaces to host public gatherings. The Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee (CSLDC), organizers of the Stonewall Parade, decided to coordinate a series of four additional dances, to be held at Weinstein Hall as fundraisers for legal, medical and housing services for the gay community. The “Dance-a-Fairs” were booked with the Weinstein Hall Student Governing Association for the Friday evenings between August 7th and September 4th 1970.

The first two Dance-a-Fairs were held successfully, and without comment from the NYU administration. However, on the eve the third dance, to be held on August 21st, the NYU administration and trustees announced that the remaining two dances would be cancelled, and that the student government of Weinstein Hall did not have the authority to negotiate with non-university organizations. With the help of a New York Civil Liberties lawyer, the NYU administration was convinced to allow the third dance to proceed. The CSLDC secured the sponsorship of an NYU student group, Gay Student Liberation, for the final dance on August 28th. However, as the fall semester approached, the NYU administration closed all university facilities to gay social functions until a panel of ministers and psychologists determined whether homosexuality was “morally acceptable.” The administration was particularly concerned about the impact of gay dances on impressionable freshmen.

The evening of August 28th witnessed a small but angry demonstration outside Weinstein Hall. City police were called, and a group of representatives from the gay community went to meet with NYU Dean Harold Whiteman. Gay Flame described the event:

We told him it was Weinstein Hall or stormy weather. He looked at us and he knew we meant it. We weren’t hiding in our closets and we had a foot wedged in his. So, after a little while, he gave in and said we’d have it. We ran back over and told the people who were still marching the news. Another win for GAY POWER. We had met the enemy and the hall is ours![1]

The remaining protesters entered the hall for a small dance party that evening, but the ban on gay social functions at the university remained in place.

Meeting of gay activists at Weinstein Hall (Image courtesy of NYPL)

Three weeks later, a meeting of the NYU group Gay Student Liberation decided to call for an immediate occupation of Weinstein Hall, in response to the administration’s discriminatory conduct toward gay, lesbian and transgender functions on campus. A liaison was sent to a Gay Liberation Front meeting to request additional volunteers. Within hours there were almost 70 people in the cavernous hall, including transgender activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. The five-day event was an open occupation, and activists came and went from the hall, meeting with students from the residence building, flyering the university and holding public teach-ins on gay liberation. Student representatives met and voted to support the strike, providing blankets for the occupiers as the administration attempted to freeze them out by turning up the air-conditioning in the hall. Two days later, a mass meeting of students and occupiers decided to organize a dance in Weinstein Hall for the evening of Friday, September 25th.

At 2:30pm on the afternoon of the dance, NYU administration called New York City’s Tactical Police Squad. With all doors to the hall barricaded except one, riot police gave the occupiers ten seconds to vacate the hall, in what was described “as the most frightening, naked display of antihomosexual power” that had ever been seen.[2] Sylvia Rivera refused to leave, and was carried out by police. NYU’s homophobic policies and the violent actions of the city police led to a series of demonstrations against the university, beginning that evening in Greenwich Village. Further demonstrations were held at NYU’s Bellevue Hospital, which practiced shock therapy treatment on homosexual psychiatry patients and at the NYU Student Center, where protesters presented the university with a list of demands. Included in the demands were: the use of university facilities by the gay community, open admissions and free tuition for gay people and all other oppressed communities, the discussion of homosexuality in relevant courses and the end of oppressive treatment of gay patients at Bellevue Hospital.

Marsha P. Johnson (Image Courtesy of NYPL)

The occupation of Weinstein Hall was primarily led by transgender people of color and women. Emerging from the occupation was the formation of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. STAR focused on the needs of homeless transgender sex workers; providing shelter, food and legal support. STAR also worked to combat discrimination within the gay community.

The sit-in at Weinstein Hall by gay, lesbian and transgender activists and their allies is one in a long history of occupation in New York City in pursuit of social and economic justice.

[1] Teal, Donn. The Gay Militants (New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1971), 205.

[2] Murphey, John. Homosexual Liberation: A Personal View (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 123.


Bell, Arthur. Dancing the Gay Lib Blues: A Year in the Homosexual Liberation Movement. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971.

Duberman, Martin. Stonewall. New York: Penguin Group, 1993.

Murphey, John. Homosexual Liberation: A Personal View. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.

Out History. “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.” http://www.outhistory.org/wiki/Street_Transvestite_Action_Revolutionaries. Accessed December 10, 2011.

Teal, Donn. The Gay Militants. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1971.

For more information about STAR please see:

Cohen, Steven L. Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail. Florence, Kentucky: Routledge, 2007.

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