In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by one detective, one deputy inspector, two patrolmen, and four plainclothes police officers from the Public Morals Section of New York City Police Department. Anyone without ID, or anyone cross-dressed, was arrested.
The Stonewall Inn opened in March 1967, and by June 1969 had become the most popular gay bar in Greenwich Village. At this time homosexuality was illegal in 49 of the 50 US states, and the police harassment of gay bars, as well as entrapment by the police, was on the rise in New York. A raid was not an unusual occurrence. What proved unusual was that, instead of dispersing, the crowd the police had pushed out of the bar congregated on the streets. Three drag queens, the bartender and the doorman were bundled into a police van. There were boos, catcalls, and cries to push the van over. And then when a woman who was being taken out to a second van put up a fight so did the crowd.
The police returned the following night, as did the crowds, and both in greater numbers. This was, in fact, the night that the poet Allen Ginsberg first visited the Stonewall Inn. To cries of “gay power”, and “Christopher Street belongs to the queens”, the crowds fought back. As the activist and academic Dennis Altman later wrote, it was the “Boston Tea Party of the gay movement”.
In his book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, David Carter concluded,
“the true legacy of the Stonewall riots is the ongoing struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. While the fight is far from over, it is now a worldwide movement that has won many significant victories, most of them flowing from those six days in the summer of 1969 when gay people found the courage to stand up for themselves on the streets of Greenwich Village.”
The Stonewall Riots changed the state of play, and sent out a message that enough was enough, that it was time for the harassment to end. To mark the first anniversary of the event the following June, the first Pride marches were held in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In 2012, the legacy of Pride is in disarray. The march in Kiev was cancelled after increased violence against LGBT people. This was no doubt a fallout from the laws to prohibit all positive representations of homosexuality now current in five Russian cities. In London, the World Pride on July 7 has turned into a fiasco. As of today there will be no floats, no official events in Soho, and the rally in Trafalgar Square has been cut back. It is no longer the biggest pride celebration in the world, as promised. One can only wonder at the serious mismanagement within the official committee that could lead to this announcement being made only nine days before the event itself.
The official PR line from Pride London is that “we are returning to the roots of the original Pride London rallies. The ‘parade’ as we know it will now be a procession.” Although this has a serious ring of desperation to it, it may also be a good thing. Pride should not be an advertising opportunity, and too many of the floats in the past have been corporate broadcasts and not community led. Pride should be about the people on the streets, the community, and above all the experience. That cannot be managed, or organized. And we should count ourselves lucky that we have a Pride march, and that it’s not the politics of the state that threaten it. It is 43 years to the day that the Stonewall Riots started, and perhaps this is something that we should remember and honour.