Background of Raids at Stonewall Inn
Prior to the Stonewall Uprising (which is often refered to as the Stonewall Riots or simply “Stonewall” and - occasionally - the Stonewall Rebellion), police regularly raided gay bars, which were often owned by the Mafia, which also owned the Stonewall Inn. In the 1950s and 1960s, gay people were facing a hostile legal system and were discriminated against in public accomodations, including bars.
The Stonewall Uprising began in response to a police raid in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. This was not the first response to police brutality in spaces popular amongst gay people. Cooper Do-nuts was a 24 hour cafe between two gay bars in Los Angeles. Because of their location and friendly attitutde to gay customers, they were targeted by police. On a May 1959 evening, two police officers entered Cooper Do-nuts and asked for IDs, which was a common form of harassment and intimidation. The officers then attempted to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man. When one of the arrestees began to protest, patrons began throwing drinks and pastries at the police cars. After the police drove away without making arrests, patrons took to the streets. Arrests were ultimately made, but not before the events of Cooper Do-nuts in Los Angeles made history as the first known gay uprising in the United States.
In 1966, police targeted Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco, patronized at the time by drag queens and trans women, to arrest people who were legally male and dressed traditionally as women. A transgender woman resisted arrest by throwing coffee at a police officer. Patrons poured into the streets and fought by throwing dishware and breaking the windows, which they broke again a few days later when the windows were replaced. This uprising was seen as a pivotal point for those at the intersections of race, class, and gender identity and expression as well as the starting point for the transgender rights movement in San Francisco.
June 28-29, 1969
(cw: sexual assault)
On the early morning of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, setting off a series of demonstrations in which patrons fought back against police brutality. While the bouncers used intense scrutiny to determine who would be allowed entrance, on this night four undercover police officers entered the bar early to gather evidence. Unfortunately, the bar was not tipped off about a potential raid that evening, despite the norm. The Public Morals Squad waited for the signal and the raid began when the police called for backup. Over 200 people were locked inside the bar. Usually, the police would line up patrons and check identification; women police officers would escort those dressed in typically women’s clothes to the restroom to “verify their sex.” On June 28, the patrons refused to go to the restroom with the police officers. From there, police decided to round up everyone for arrest, while separating those suspected of “crossdressing.” Some patrons were released through the front door and stayed to watch. Meanwhile, patrons began reacting to police who touched lesbian patrions inappropriately while frisking them. Crowds grew to 150 and to, eventually, ten times that. They satirically saluted the police, threw pennies and then beer bottles, shouted “Gay Power!” and sang “We Shall Overcome.” Police continued beating patrons. A lesbian, believed by many to be Stormé DeLarverie, escaped arrest several times and fought four police officers. When an officer threw her into the back of a wagon, she shouted, “Why don’t you guys do something?” One witness recalls, “It was at that moment that the scene became explosive.” The uprising escalated but the streets were mostly clear by 4am. Folks returned the second night, but there are different views on which night was the most riotous.
On June 28, 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots with an assembly on Christopher Street. Los Angeles and Chicago hosted additional marches. These three marches are viewed as the first gay pride marches. In 1971, Gay Pride marches were held in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockhom.
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