50 Years After the Stonewall Uprising, a Celebration Blends Pride and Resistance

The crowd of thousands that gathered outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on Friday, packing the streets around the most famous gay bar in the world, were there to pay tribute to the early L.G.B.T. pioneers who, 50 years ago, led a protest that sparked the modern gay rights movement.

The emotional rally under a clear summer sky commemorated the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Around the stage, at the corner of Christopher Street and Waverly Place, candy colored wigs mixed together with a sea of the rainbow flags and apparel that have been festooned around New York City in June for the monthlong Pride celebrations.

But advocates and politicians, in their remarks, took a tone of staunch resistance, making it clear that they believed the fight for equality was far from over and arguing that a host of national and global policies still unfairly discriminated against the L.G.B.T. community.

“We have embraced our outsider status and put our bodies on the line,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, an activist with Gays Against Guns. She added: “This is not the time to sit at home and worry, it is the time for action.”

In the middle of the celebration, spectators mixed and mingled, some facing the stage, intently listening to speakers, others meandering around taking in the sights and the crowd. They represented a range of ages, ethnicities, gender expressions and nationalities.

Frits Huffnagel, 50, the chairman of Amsterdam Pride, said he had long been planning to attend this year’s celebrations — his first ever New York Pride — in large part because of the significance of the Stonewall anniversary.

“All the Prides we have in the world, it started here. We are all standing on the shoulders of the people that were here.”

Kiyomi Calloway, 20, who was handing out rainbow lollipops in front of the Stonewall Inn, said that it was “surreal and confusing and powerful” to stand on a street where 50 years ago a crowd of gay people was attacked by the police, and now a larger crowd was being protected by the police.

“A lot of social mentality has changed,” she said, adding that, in the future, she wanted to see more protections for trans women of color.

Amid a weekend of late-night dance parties, outdoor concerts and a colorful corporate-sponsored parade, the rally Friday night was intended to be the main political event during the WorldPride festival, a global event that has previously been held in Rome, Jerusalem, London, Toronto and Madrid.

Many Pride celebrations, WorldPride included, can trace their origins back to the clash that broke out between the police and the crowd outside the Stonewall Inn and the days of protest that followed.

The conflict began in the hours after midnight on June 28, 1969, when police officers with the now-extinct Public Morals Squad raided the bar. It was late on a warm summer night, and the Stonewall, a mob-run dive without a liquor license, was packed.

As the police had in previous raids, they began arresting employees, who they said were selling alcohol illegally. The customers were ushered out of the bar, but officers pulled some aside, asking for identification, checking for what was considered gender-appropriate clothing and demanding that some cross-dressers submit to anatomical inspections.

Their actions were common at a time when police harassment of L.G.B.T. people was part of life. Laws required people in public to wear at least three articles of clothing that suited their genders. The officers raiding gay bars would check, often taking those who did not comply into custody.

The police behavior had long infuriated L.G.B.T. people, who, already on the margins of society, saw bars like the Stonewall as the safe havens where they could express their queer identities with impunity.

It was on that night in June that the tension, long simmering, hit its boiling point outside the Stonewall.

As officers conducted the raid, a group of onlookers taunted the police, crying, “Gay power.” The conflict escalated after one woman who resisted arrest was shoved into the back of a police car. Some started to throw coins, stones and bottles at the car and at officers.

It was then that the uprising turned into a clash. The window of the bar, where officers had retreated, was shattered. Officers eventually called for backup and riot gear, and skirmishes broke out as they worked to clear the streets and end the chaos.

Any success the police had was short-lived. As news of the uprising spread, it became a call to arms for the gay liberation movement and drew more people to Christopher Street. Days and nights of street protests followed, marked with more violent encounters.

The Stonewall uprising set the stage for a radical transformation of the gay rights movement.

In the days after the riots, a new group, the Gay Liberation Front, emerged, holding demonstrations that built off the momentum of the energy at Stonewall. On the first anniversary of the rebellion, that group and others joined for the Christopher Street Liberation Day March — viewed now as New York’s first Pride march.

It was the start of a new template for gay activists — one that urged outspoken defiance against homophobic and transphobic forces that had rarely been challenged so aggressively and so publicly.

The coalition that emerged brought together disparate voices, which were not always in harmony. Over the years, the movement’s name would change, expanding to account for changing understandings of sexuality and gender. As arguments broke out, new groups would spring up or splinter from stalwart organizations.

Then, just as gay rights groups were becoming a stronger political force, the community was ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, which struck down many leaders in their primes. Angry activists, motivated by the perceived indifference of political leaders, fought for change.

Even though the movement was not always as unified as it may have seemed, its members were united in the belief that grounded the protesters at Stonewall: that L.G.B.T. people were worthy of equality, dignity and respect.

Emily Palmer and Aaron Randle contributed reporting.


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