Photograph by Fred W. McDarrah/MUUS Collection
THE MODERN LGBTQ+ RIGHTS MOVEMENT BEGINS AT THE STONEWALL INN
In New York City in the 1960s, LGBTQ+ people walked the streets in fear. Widespread prejudice, intolerance, and ignorance meant that simply existing in public spaces came with constant threat of violence from neighbors, community members, and the police.
Bars like The Stonewall Inn provided a haven where people could dress how they wanted, meet other LGBTQ+ people, dance with their partners and breathe a little easier, even for a few moments. But these spaces weren’t exactly safe— the police could and would raid them at any moment, beating and arresting patrons under the guise of close-minded laws. Living outside the heterosexual norm was effectively illegal.
Imagine then, June 28, 1969 at The Stonewall Inn, when the safety of the bar was yet again violated by a police raid. Fear spread through the air, but so did anger. The patrons were faced with a crucial question: Do you run? Or do you fight?
WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
On that June night, the patrons of The Stonewall Inn chose to fight back. They had had enough of the fear and discrimination and police brutality. As police wrestled patrons and staff out of the bar, the crowd gathering outside could tolerate this hatred no longer. They began to fight back, throwing coins and bottles, bricks and fists, 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 and eventually had to be rescued by the fire department and riot squad.
In this one rebellious moment, the LGBTQ+ rioters had a taste of freedom. Just being on the street in public as openly 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’s vital to note that these riots took place as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum across the country, and the rallying cry of ‘Gay Power’ during the Stonewall Uprising was a powerful allusion to ‘Black Power’, the chant of the Black Panthers. The riots were led by several prominent Black and Brown people, including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major Griffin Gracy. Storme Delarverie, a biracial lesbian drag performer is often credited as 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 fueled a surge in organizing within the LGBTQ+ community. There were protests and activist groups before Stonewall, but after the uprising something shifted: queer people were done hiding. A year after Stonewall, the Gay Liberation Front marked the anniversary by marching through the streets of New York – the first ever Pride march. That’s why the Stonewall Inn is known today as the birthplace of the Pride movement and the global fight for LGBTQ+ rights.
THE FIGHT CONTINUES
We often hear “Pride was a protest,” but Pride was a riot – a long-repressed explosion of rage. The revolutionaries at the Stonewall Inn were fighting for their right to exist, to reclaim physical and emotional space, to be able to walk down the street and not fear for their lives. Of course, the fight is far from over. In the US and around the world, many LGBTQ+ people still experience fear, hatred and violence just for existing as themselves.
When The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative (SIGBI) approached the Brooklyn Brewery in 2017 and asked us to create a beer with them, we were all in. Our partnership has grown to include sustained contributions to help fund grassroots LGBTQ+ organizations and activists across the US; telling the story of SIGBI through The Stonewall Inn IPA; and showing up as allies in every way we can.
The world needs to know the story of The Stonewall Inn Uprising because the same battle for space and acceptance still rages around the globe. We are here to support the fight every step of the way.