I was actually planning to skip Saturday Surprise again this week, but a glance at the calendar reminds me that June is almost over, and what I planned to do from the beginning of the month, has as yet gone undone. June is Pride Month, a month dedicated to recognizing the impact LGBTQ people have had in the world. I see Pride Month in much the same way I see February’s Black History Month. It is a way to honour or commemorate those who rarely receive the recognition they deserve, and are often discriminated against, simply because they are LGBTQ, or black, in the case of Black History Month. A bit of history …
The Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, was owned by the Genovese crime family, and in 1966, three members of the Genovese family invested $3,500 to turn the Stonewall Inn into a gay bar, after it had been a restaurant and a nightclub for heterosexuals. Once a week a police officer would collect envelopes of cash as a payoff, as the Stonewall Inn had no liquor license and thus was operating outside the law. It was the only bar for gay men in New York City where dancing was allowed; dancing was its main draw since its re-opening as a gay club.
At 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1969, four plainclothes policemen in dark suits, two patrol officers in uniform, and Detective Charles Smythe and Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine arrived at the Stonewall Inn’s double doors and announced “Police! We’re taking the place!” Approximately 205 people were in the bar that night. Patrons who had never experienced a police raid were confused. A few who realized what was happening began to run for doors and windows in the bathrooms, but police barred the doors.
Standard procedure was to line up the patrons, check their identification, and have female police officers take customers dressed as women to the bathroom to verify their sex, upon which any men dressed as women would be arrested. Those dressed as women that night refused to go with the officers. Men in line began to refuse to produce their identification. The police decided to take everyone present to the police station, after separating those cross-dressing in a room in the back of the bar.
Long story short, a few patrons were released before the patrol wagons arrived to cart the rest off to jail, and those few stayed out front, attracted quite a large crowd, mostly LGBT people, and after an officer hit a woman over the head for saying her handcuffs were too tight, the crowd went into fight mode. By this time, the police were outnumbered by some 600 people. Garbage cans, garbage, bottles, rocks, and bricks were hurled at the building, breaking the windows. The mob lit garbage on fire and stuffed it through the broken windows. Police tried to use water hoses to disperse the crowd, but there was no water pressure. Police pulled their weapons, but before they could fire them, the Tactical Patrol Force and firefighters arrived. The crowd mocked and fought against the police, who began swinging their batons right and left, not much caring who they hit or where.
The crowd was cleared by 4:00 a.m., but the mood remained dark, and the next night, rioting resumed with thousands of people showing up at the Stonewall, blocking the streets. Police responded, and again it was 4:00 a.m. before the mob was cleared.
There comes a point when people who are mistreated, abused, discriminated against, have had enough. It is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and the police raid on the Stonewall Inn, the treatment of people who were only out to enjoy the night, was that straw. It was a history making night, not only for the LGBTQ community, but for the nation.Within six months of the Stonewall riots, activists started a citywide newspaper called Gay; they considered it necessary because the most liberal publication in the city—The Village Voice—refused to print the word “gay”. Two other newspapers were initiated within a six-week period: Come Out! and Gay Power; the readership of these three periodicals quickly climbed to between 20,000 and 25,000. Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was formed with a constitution that began …
“We as liberated homosexual activists demand the freedom for expression of our dignity and value as human beings.”
I think that says it all, don’t you? ‘Dignity and value as human beings’. It is, in my book, a crying shame that our society needs to be reminded that we are all human beings, that we all have value and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street; with simultaneous Gay Pride marches in Los Angeles and Chicago, these were the first Gay Pride marches in U.S. history. The next year, Gay Pride marches took place in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. The Stonewall riots are considered the birth of the gay liberation movement and of gay pride on a massive scale. The event has been likened to the Boston Tea Party, and Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus. All of those were people’s way of saying, “We’ve had enough!”
This year marks the 50 year anniversary of the Stonewall Inn raid and ensuing riots, and at long last, the New York City Police Department apologized to the LGBTQ community. “The actions taken by the NYPD [at Stonewall] were wrong, plain and simple,” police commissioner James O’Neill said. He also noted that the frequent harassment of LGBTQ men and women and laws that prohibited same-sex sexual relations are “discriminatory and oppressive” and apologized on behalf of the department.
President Bill Clinton first declared June to be National Pride Month in 1999, and again in 2000. On June 1, 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the White House would not formally recognize Pride Month. Every year that President Barack Obama was in office, he declared June to be LGBT Pride Month. Donald Trump ignored it in 2017 and 2018, but acknowledged Pride Month this year, but only via tweet, and he blocked the display of the Pride flag at all U.S. embassies.
I had no intention of turning this post into a history lesson! I wanted to use it to highlight some of the celebrations, the fun ways that people celebrate pride month, the people and organizations that are supporting Pride Month, and to honour the LGBTQ community, but I felt the history was important also, so … this will be Part I, and Part II will follow. Stay tuned!