50 Years Later, What We Forgot About Stonewall

It’s L.G.B.T.Q. Pride Month, and you’re reading In Her Words. With every edition for the next four weeks, we’ll be sharing a little history about the events or people that shaped L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

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“As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration.

Marsha P. Johnson, a central figure in the gay liberation movement who was part of the Stonewall uprising

So much of what I think and write about is shaded by an inescapable fact: Women’s history is simply not well-documented. Gaps are often filled with stories, historically informed and speculative, that have been passed down. (By some accounts, women occupy a mere 0.5 percent of about 3,500 years of recorded history.)

L.G.B.T.Q. history is no different.

Even the event credited as the foundation of the modern L.G.B.T.Q. rights movement — the Stonewall uprising, which erupted 50 years ago this month, in the early hours of June 28, 1969 — is ultimately a patchwork of accounts.

What we know for sure is that the police raided the Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn — and it wasn’t the first time. But this time, patrons had had enough. The raid ignited a violent conflict, and then protests, that lasted for days. The lesbian, gay and transgender people who were herded out that night revolted: shoving, punching and throwing stones, bottles and (as the story goes) bricks at police officers.

But as my colleague Shane O’Neill found out for his new mini-documentary, “Who Threw the First Brick at Stonewall?,” no one can agree on almost anything else (or even if a brick was thrown at all), other than that it was a messy evening that accelerated and defined gay rights.

[WATCH: Who Threw the First Brick at Stonewall?]

So what was lost from that night — and from that era — that deserves recollection?

I asked Mark Segal, an L.G.B.T.Q. civil rights pioneer, witness to the Stonewall uprising and founder of the first New York City pride march in 1970.

“The magic and the spirit of Stonewall was created by the Gay Liberation Front,” Segal said, referring to the first queer activist organization formed after Stonewall. As he put it, the group “is why we have everything that we have today.”

Yet most people don’t know its story.

G.L.F. started to form the night of the uprising, and members spoke on the steps of Stonewall the second night.

For the next year, they handed out leaflets announcing they were gay. (“Are we a load of screaming queens? YES!” reads one.)

They shared information about medical and legal developments affecting the community.

They organized the first gay pride march, called Christopher Street Liberation Day (the street where Stonewall is located), which took place exactly a year after the uprising. Thousands participated, heading straight up Sixth Avenue to Sheep Meadow in Central Park for a “gay-in.”

In that year between the uprising and the march, they created the first transgender organization and the first L.G.B.T. community center.

They did all of this unabashedly in public — a rarity for the time, when most lesbian and gay gatherings took place in private. By accepting people into the organization from all races, political viewpoints and gender identities, they managed to change the public face of the gay community, said Segal, who will appear in the new Smithsonian Channel documentary “Beyond Stonewall.”

“Before Stonewall, you had organizations that only allowed white people who were properly dressed to ‘represent’ the community,” Segal said. “We were black, brown and every other stripe of the American quilt.”

[WATCH: Stonewall, the Making of a Monument]

And they were done being pushed around or aside by society.

“We no longer were professional men and housewives pleading for our rights, we were demanding them,” Segal said. “We would no longer let others label us.”

While the organization disbanded after a few years, its influence remains.

As for that mythical first brick? Watch the video to find out.


Here are five articles from The Times you might have missed.

  • “Leading the world into the future.” Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, key figures in the gay liberation movement, will be honored with a New York monument. [Read the story]

  • “You are dust and to dust you will return.” Rachel Held Evans, who built a community among evangelical “refugees,” including L.G.B.T. Christians, died last month. “The Daily” explored her legacy. [Listen here]

  • “It’s important that we find a cure that actually works for everybody.” Half of H.I.V. patients are women. Most research subjects are men. [Read the story]

  • “Not an ideal or acceptable work environment.” Thousands of people in Japan say workplaces shouldn’t be allowed to make women wear high heels. They’ve rallied around the hashtag #KuToo. [Read the story]

  • “Apathy often takes the form of stereotyping and victim-blaming.” A Canadian inquiry calls killings of indigenous women genocide. [Read the story]

Will you be in the San Diego area on June 12? Join us for a free event where Jamal Jordan, author and photographer of the 2018 article “Queer Love in Color,” explores the transformative conversations between L.G.B.T.Q. youth and elders. Learn more here.

On the Monday after the Stonewall Inn uprising, a modest article about the scene in Greenwich Village appeared in The New York Times. Even in a newspaper in the city where the uprising took place, the details were scant.

Law enforcement, the article said, had been unable to control about 400 people who had gathered across the street from the Stonewall Inn that Sunday night to protest the raid and violence it incited on Saturday.

The police twice broke ranks to charge into the crowd, and at least two men were clubbed to the ground by officers, the article said, and a few people were arrested.

The backdrop: Graffiti on boarded-up windows of the Stonewall Inn that read, “Support gay power” and “legalize gay bars.”

Read past articles here.

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