June 28, 1969 marks the beginning of the Stonewall Uprising, a series of events between police and LGBTQ+ protesters which stretched over six days. It was not the first time police raided a gay bar, and it was not the first time LGBTQ+ people fought back, but the events that would unfold over the next six days would fundamentally change the nature of LGBTQ+ activism in the United States. We invite you to learn more about the Stonewall Uprising, and LGBTQ+ history in general, through the rich and diverse collections at the Library of Congress.
LGBTQ+ New York in the 1960s
In 1969, the Stonewall Inn was one of the most popular gay bars in New York City. Throughout the state, it was illegal to serve alcohol to a gay person until 1966External, and in 1969, homosexuality was still considered a criminal offense. This led many gay establishments to operate sans liquor license, providing an open door for raids and police brutality. The Stonewall Inn was owned by the mafia, and as long as they continued to make a profit, they cared very little about what happened to their clientele. The police raids on gay bars and spaces was not isolated to the East and West coasts, but was a phenomenon happening across the U.S. during this time.
June 28, 1969: The Full Moon Rises Over Stonewall
During the early morning hours (around 1:15-1:20a.m.) on June 28, 1969, plainclothes officers from the New York Police Department arrived at the Stonewall Inn. The police justified the raid with a search warrant, authorizing them to investigate the illegal sale of alcohol at Stonewall. Led by Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, the police entered the establishment and began to interrogate the patrons. The raid was routine for a bar like Stonewall, but this time, events did not unfold according to the inspectors plans.
The turning point came when the police had difficulty keeping a dyke in a patrol car. Three times she slid out and tried to walk away. The last time a cop bodily heaved her in. The crowd shrieked, “Police brutality!” “Pigs!” A few coins sailed through the air…escalated to nickels and quarters. A bottle. Another bottle. Pine says, “Let’s get inside. Lock ourselves inside, it’s safer.”
Full Moon Over the Stonewall, by Howard Smith. The Village Voice, (v.XIV) July 3, 1969, p.1+
While locked inside, the interrogation of patrons and employees continued. Those who had identification were slowly released into the gathering crowd outside, while others were kept inside the bar in preparation for their arrest. The employees and those that were “cross-dressing” were the most visible law-breakers, and therefore the most vulnerable to arrest. Inspector Pine ordered all “cross-dressers” detained, and while a few were able to escape in the commotion, several were arrested. The resistance raged on through the night, with most of the crowds dispersing by 4:00a.m. on June 28th.
But the uprising was far from over. Word of the Stonewall raid spread quickly throughout the city. By that evening (Saturday June 28), thousands of protesters had gathered at the Stonewall and in the surrounding area. The protests continued into the next week, with another outbreak of intense fighting occurring on that following Wednesday.
Who was at Stonewall?
As Stonewall has became mythologized in history, important details have been obscured. For instance, many have decried the erasure of lesbians, drag queens, queer youth, and transgender and gender non-conforming people, and their role in the uprising and the political organizing that led to the moment. These individuals and communities were an easy target for the police, because in New York in 1969, it was illegal to wear fewer than three items of “gender-inappropriate” clothing (See: New York Penal Code 240.35, Subsection 4). In fact, we know according to newspapers and other first-hand accounts that at least two “drag queens” were arrested at Stonewall.
Considered to be one of the most accurate depictions of Stonewall the article entitled “Queen PowerExternal,” described the centrality of drag queens to the events of Stonewall. One can find further accounts of the involvement of drag queens at Stonewall by reading Drag MagazineExternal, the official organ of the Queens Liberation Front. Lee BrewsterExternal co-founded Drag Magazine and the Queens Liberation Front (QLF) in 1970, which worked in tandem to overturn New York laws outlawing cross-dressing.
The Birth of Pride: Commemorating the Christopher Street Uprisings
“Many new activists consider the Stonewall Uprising the birth of the gay liberation movement. Certainly it was the birth of gay pride of a massive scale”
The first Pride march was held on June 28 1970, on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Primary sources provide detailed information about how this first Pride march was planned, and the reasons why activists felt so strongly that it should exist. To get planning underway, activists formed the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee. From the outset, the committee defined it’s aim of holding a massive march at the culmination of a Gay Pride Week (June 22-28).
This, the very first U.S. Gay Pride Week and March, was meant to give the community a chance to gather together to, “…commemorate the Christopher Street Uprisings of last summer in which thousands of homosexuals went to the streets to demonstrate against centuries of abuse….from government hostility to employment and housing discrimination, Mafia control of Gay bars, and anti-Homosexual laws” (Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee FliersExternal, University of Connecticut). Since then, LGBTQ+ people have continued to gather together in June to march with Pride.
The Stonewall Inn has now been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
- June 28, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. To find Stonewall 50 and other LGBTQ+ events at the Library of Congress, visit loc.gov/lgbt
- Watch documentary footage from LGBTQ+ rights pioneer Lilli Vincenz in our National Screening Room, including “Gay and Proud,” which features a rare glimpse of the first Pride march in New York City, 1970. Another film, “The Second Largest Minority,” highlights LGBTQ+ protests in Washington, D.C.
- In 2013, President Barack Obama cited Stonewall in his Inaugural Address, marking the first time in history LGBTQ+ rights had been mentioned.
- Read the FBI Documents on the Mattachine Society, 1950.