1969: Riot on!

Even now, the Stonewall Riot is widely considered the founding moment of the gay liberation movement.

Late on the night of July 27 a few police entered the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a seedy, unlicensed bar, known to be a favourite among homosexuals and drag queens of the most disreputable type. Intended as merely another in a long series of ‘clean up the city’ raids launched to coincide with mayoral elections, this one went badly wrong – from the authorities’ point of view.

A few arrests, a few warnings … all routine. Except that as people were released from the bar, they hung around. As those arrested were brought out to the paddy wagon, they struggled to free themselves. The crowd got angry. They heckled the cops, threw pennies at them, then beer cans, cobblestones … The cops retreated, barricading themselves inside the bar for safety, as the crowd tried to set fire to the building. Reinforcements arrived, order was restored – only to break down again on each of the next three nights as word swept through the homosexual community and crowds gathered to vent their rage.

The riot changed everything. Graffiti proclaiming gay power appeared. The poet Alan Ginsberg, visiting the neighbourhood a few days later, thought that the fags had lost that ‘wounded look’. Gay Pride was born. When respectable homosexual rights leaders denounced the violence, new organisations were formed – in New York, across America, across the globe. A new world was being born.

Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives


Posted in History Bites.