45 years ago in 1969, a police raid on a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village led to what is today known as the gay pride movement.
Police raids on gay bars were frequent, occurring once a month. Many bars kept extra liquor in a secret panel behind the bar to quickly resume business if alcohol was seized. During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, customers were lined up, and their identification cards checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested; others were allowed to leave. Some of the men, including those in drag, used their draft cards as identification.
Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing, and would be arrested if found not wearing them. Employees and management of the bars were also typically arrested. The period immediately before June 28, 1969, was marked by frequent raids of local bars—including a raid at the Stonewall Inn on a Tuesday before the riots, and the closing of the Checkerboard, the Tele-Star, and two other gay clubs in Greenwich Village.
Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam Movement, the gay rights movement began. The next night, every gay person in town descended on “The Village” as it is still known, and clashed with the police, calling them “Pigs.”
The “Stonewall Riots” went on for days. People organized into activist groups, to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.
After the Stonewall riots, two gay activist organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first gay pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago, commemorating the anniversary of the riots. The Stonewall National Monument was established at The Stonewall in 2016. It is the site of frequent selfies.
Eric Sawyer, activist and co-founder of Housing Works, told CBS News, “While it is pretty acceptable to be gay or lesbian or transgender in states like New York or California, there are still 29 states in the U.S. in which it is legal to fire someone simply because they are gay or lesbian. We still have a long way to go.” In the meantime, The Stonewall Inn is a great place to visit.