50 Years Since Stonewall: The Moment's Mark On LGBTQ History

Download Audio
A man walks past the site of Stonewall. June's Pride Month 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the riots at Stonewall Inn, in New York''s Greenwich Village, which galvanized the Gay Rights Movement in 1969. (Richard Drew, AP Photo)
A man walks past the site of Stonewall. June's Pride Month 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the riots at Stonewall Inn, in New York''s Greenwich Village, which galvanized the Gay Rights Movement in 1969. (Richard Drew, AP Photo)

With David Folkenflik

It’s been fifty years since patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back against a police raid and called for gay rights. We’ll consider the meaning of Stonewall and the state of the LGBTQ movement now. How much has changed?

Guest List:

Eric Marcus is an LGBTQ historian, and host of the podcast "Making Gay History." (@EricBMarcus).

Ebone Bell is the Editor In Chief of Tagg Magazine which spotlights LGBTQ causes with a focus on women. (@ebonebell).

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), who, in 2012, became the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress. He is also a member of the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus. (@RepMarkTakano).

From The Reading List:

NPR: The Culture Wars Live On Between The LGBTQ Rights Movement And The Religious Right

"The protests surrounding New York City's Stonewall Inn, 50 years ago this month, were a seminal moment.

Following the uprising, spurred by police raiding the bar, activist groups began organizing to demand rights."

"But the success of that movement in the years that followed saw a powerful backlash from the modern religious right. The two movements became opponents in a culture war that continues today."

"The protests by LGBTQ activists that followed Stonewall remade the movement, known as the gay movement at the time. It spurred more lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans to come out to their families, their communities and actively push for LGBTQ civil rights. LGBTQ historian Lillian Faderman points to the formation of the Gay Liberation Front shortly after the uprising, and pride parades a year later to commemorate the protests. Those parades now span cities across the country and the world."

"'Movements need icons. Movements need martyrs. Movements need heroes,' said Faderman. Stonewall became that icon for the LGBTQ movement.

At first, the religious right ignored the LGBTQ civil rights movement as a blip that would never break into the mainstream, Faderman said — until it started making progress."

New York Times: The Night the Stonewall Inn Became a Proud Shrine
"Hours before it was to become a flash point in the modern gay rights movement and a landmark visited with awe and reverence half a century later as if a shrine, it was just a dark, dingy bar called the Stonewall Inn, just another Friday night in June."
"A mobster named Fat Tony with the Genovese crime family had bought the place two years earlier for a song — it had been a restaurant damaged in a fire — and reopened it as a gay bar. The mob owned most of the city’s gay bars, running them as private clubs because they could not obtain liquor licenses. The bars were cash machines.
Fat Tony slapped black paint on the walls and windows and posted a man at the front door. A concrete wishing well, inherited from the restaurant, remained inside the front door. The new owner often boasted that he recouped his modest investment in the first few hours of opening night in March 1967."
"There were two bars and rooms for dancing to the jukebox. Bartenders made drinks with cheap liquor served out of bottles bearing brand-name labels. Dirty glasses were dunked in dirty sinks. The drinking age was 18, and broke kids who couldn’t afford a drink held empty beer cans all night to fool the waiter."
BBCStonewall riots: A beacon for people around the world?

“'Some people say that the riots started because of Judy Garland’s death. That’s a myth. We were all involved in different struggles, including myself and many other transgender people. But in these struggles, in the Civil Rights movement, in the war movement, in the women’s movement, we were still outcasts.' Transgender activist – and the person who threw the second Molotov cocktail – Sylvia Riveira described the Stonewall protests in a 2001 talk. 'I didn’t even know what a Molotov cocktail was; I’m holding this thing that’s lit and I’m like ‘What the hell am I supposed to do with this?’ ‘Throw it before it blows!’ ‘OK!’”

"At the end of June in 1969, members of the LGBTQ+ community and friends rioted outside New York City gay bar the Stonewall Inn because they were tired of police harassment on the grounds of their sexuality – really, their identity as misfits. Many of these people didn’t fit, or didn’t want to fit, or weren’t allowed to fit, into the dominant culture of strict gender types; heterosexual marriage; the family; career progression. Matthew Todd, in his new book Pride, published 50 years after the protests, calls the riots 'an explosion of optimism and energy that sent such a bright flare high above Greenwich Village, it became a beacon for people all over the world'”.

"Whether you see it as an explosion of optimism, or a scream of fury and desperation, it undoubtedly helped to trigger decades of ferocious struggle by LGBTQ+ people for full personhood – and embedded itself in the work of artists, writers and film-makers. The writer Edmund White says of Stonewall, 'at that moment we went from seeing ourselves as a mental illness to thinking we were a minority;”.

"In her collection of essays, My Seditious Heart, the writer and political activist Arundhati Roy talks about the fight of people in Gujarat, in India, to stop the Narmada Valley Development Project, a government dam-building project that eventually destroyed their homes and the local ecology.

For decades, 'They went on hunger strike, they went to court, they marched on Delhi, they sat in protest as the rising waters of the reservoir swallowed their fields and entered their homes. Still, they lost.' So what is the point of protest? She writes: 'They taught me that we must make ourselves visible, even when we lose, whatever it is that we lose – land, livelihood, or a worldview. And that we must make it impossible for those in power to pretend that they do not know the costs and consequences of what they do. They also taught me the limitations of constitutional methods of resistance.'"

Adam Waller produced this hour for broadcast.

This program aired on June 28, 2019.



More from On Point

Listen Live