Anniversary Post: Stonewall Riots

Stonewall Inn - 1969I mentioned yesterday that it was interesting that the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage throughout the United States just the day before San Francisco Pride, which is always held at the end of June each year. I didn’t think to ask why that was. Well, I should have. According to Wikipedia, “The festival is traditionally held in the last full weekend in June. This commemorates the Stonewall riots.” On this day in 1968, the Stonewall riots started. It is generally taken as the beginning of the gay rights movement.

Even people of my age don’t generally know the horrible state of the institutional oppression of the LGBT community in the past. (Of course, it is as bad or worse in some places.) The most obvious example of this was the forced castration of Alan Turing. But the gay community in cities throughout the United States were subjected to constant police harassment. The Stonewall Inn was a very low-rent gay bar in Greenwich Village in the late 1960s. And so from time to time, the police would come by and arrest people because… Well, frankly, because the police have always been more interested in abusing marginalized members of the society than fighting real crime where they might get hurt.

Very early on 28 June 1968, four plain-clothes police officers raided the bar. But things did not go as planned. Part of it was certainly that resentment had been building up for years — decades — centuries. But the bigger issue was the police screwed up. They weren’t prepared. Things got delayed. And before long, a crowd of a hundred or more people gathered outside the bar. The mood was at first festive as the onlookers mocked the police, but there was also anger. Eventually, the police got into a scuffle with a lesbian who was complaining about her handcuffs being too tight. (Entirely typical — a common form of torture police officers use when they don’t like the person they are arresting.) After they beat her up, she yelled at the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?!” And it exploded. Wikipedia provides a good overview. Read it; it’s very exciting!

Anyway, the riot led to more riots and then to demonstrations and a much more active “gay liberation” movement. I don’t believe in violence. Just the same, the authorities will never do anything but abuse you unless you push back. The Mattachine Society was very important. But the Stonewall riots marked a turning point — something new and more radical was required. And Friday’s Supreme Court decision was one of the many good results of that. Of course people are still getting beaten up, raped, and murdered because of sexual orientation and gender identity. But it cannot be denied that things have greatly improved.

Happy anniversary Stonewall riots!

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