Have you ever walked down the street and felt fear? On high alert to the threat of violence at any possible moment? Every time you are out in public, whatever time of day or night you are at risk and not just from strangers – from your neighbours, the community and even the police too.
Now imagine there is a place you can go where you can relax a little. You can dress how you like; you can laugh with your friends; you can dance with your partner and just for a moment you can breathe a little easier.
In 1960s New York City, this is what bars like The Stonewall Inn were for many LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people – a haven from the violence you faced out in public. Those havens weren’t exactly safe though – the police might raid the place at any moment, you could still be beaten and arrested. Just like they did night after night after night… Because to be gay then was illegal.
And just like that, on 28th June 1969 at The Stonewall Inn, the police burst in again. You know how this goes. There’s fear, but there’s also anger. What do you do?
Do you run?
Or do you fight?
On 28th June 1969 the patrons of The Stonewall Inn chose to fight. They had had enough of the fear and discrimination and police brutality. As people gathered outside The Stonewall Inn on that hot summer’s night, watching police wrestle patrons and staff out of the bar, the LGBTQ+ community finally snapped. They started to fight back, throwing stuff at the police – coins, bottles, anything they could get their hands on. A riot erupted on the street. The police barricaded themselves in the bar, along with a few arrestees, hiding, and eventually had to be rescued by the fire service and riot squad.
As the rebellion gained momentum on the streets, the LGBTQ+ rioters had a taste of freedom. Just being on the street, out in the open as queer people together, felt like a revolution. The next night people returned for more, and the next, and the next. The Stonewall Uprising lasted for six nights in total.
It is vital to note that the riots took place within the context of the civil rights movement gaining momentum. Around this time, the Black Panthers were marching for the rights of Black folk in the US. Shouts of ‘Gay Power’ on the first night of the Stonewall Uprising were a powerful allusion to ‘Black Power’, the chant of the Panthers, and became the rallying cry of the queer rioters outside the Stonewall Inn during those 6 nights of protest. There were many prominent Black and Brown people whose names today are synonymous with the riots, such as Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major Griffin Gracy. Storme Delarverie, a biracial lesbian drag performer is considered to be the ‘lesbian who threw the first punch’ at the riots. The fights for queer liberation and Black liberation are inextricably bound together.
The Stonewall Riots fuelled a powerful growth in organising within the queer community. It’s not that there weren’t protests and activist groups before Stonewall, but after Stonewall something shifted. Queer people were done hiding. That fire in their bellies sparked the creation of the Gay Liberation Front and one year on from Stonewall, the GLF would march through the streets of New York – the first ever Pride march. That’s why the Stonewall Inn is known today as the birth place of the Pride movement and the global fight for LGBTQ+ rights as we know it today.
We often hear the words ‘Pride was a protest’ but in truth, Pride was a riot – it was an explosion of rage. The revolutionaries at the Stonewall Inn were fighting for their right to exist. Not to have to hide; to be able to walk down the street and not fear for their lives. It was about a reclaiming of space – physical, mental. Of course, the fight is not over: many LGBTQ+ people today still fear and experience violence – just for existing as themselves.
When The Stonewall Inn approached the Brooklyn Brewery in 2017 and asked us to create a beer for them – we were all in.
Over the years we have built a partnership that means not only are we able to provide a sustained source of income to the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative (funding grassroots activists fighting for LGBTQ+ rights across the US) through our Stonewall Inn IPA, but we also show up in whatever way they need. They want the world to know the story of The Stonewall Inn Uprising, because that same fight for space and acceptance is still happening the world over in different ways.
We are here to support their fight every step of the way.