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