May 19, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

New York’s Stonewall Riots: Catalyst for Change

3 min read

The 1960s was the era of social movements. The African American Civil Rights movement was in full swing, as were the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. However, the LGBTQ community still remained largely underground, since the legal system was anti-gay and society remained blind to the cause. The turning of the tide was in 1969, as the Stonewall Riots took the nation by storm.

As the first establishment where gay men could openly dance with one another, Stonewall Inn was quick to gain popularity and become the place to be. However, as per the norm of the era, it was subject to regular cop raids.


One particular raid at Stonewall Inn did not go as easily as the police had expected. On the evening of June 28, 1969, instead of peacefully lining up for gender-identification and arrest, the patrons began to resist. Cross-dressing males refused to have their gender identity checked; patrons in line refused to present any identification at all. The resulting length of the raid gathered a crowd outside to egg on the police as the proprietors and staff were escorted into the patrol wagon.

The mood changed when a lesbian, upset by the casual attitude of the bystanders, asked why they weren’t doing anything. The anger of the crowd had already begun to simmer during the bust. Already more than a hundred, there were enough onlookers to begin a sizable riot. The crowd tried to overturn the patrol wagon, so it left along with the police cars. It seemed like, without conscious agreement, both patrons and bystanders were just done with the discrimination.

The violence did not end there. The day after the riots, Stonewall Inn was spray-painted up and down with declarations of defiance from the LGBTQ community. The bar opened that night. Word had spread about the first Stonewall Riot, and the crowds came back that next night. It eventually exploded into a full-fledged series of riots  as the community decided to fight back for the long term. News spread further and others joined in demonstrations, continuing on throughout the better part of the next week. Writers of the Beat generation such as Allan Ginsberg, also a Greenwich Village resident, visited Stonewall Inn to show their support on the days following that first riot.


The riots became a catalyst for the LGBTQ rights campaign. The new militancy of the LGBTQ community was seen in the open use of the word “gay” in organization names, such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. The suddenly open community added gay activism to the civil rights movement and the antiwar demonstration mix. The influence continues until today, with annual Gay Pride events held all over the world in the memory of the riots.

New York City continues to be an LGBTQ hotspot with a substantial number of Pride events as well as bars and clubs that cater to the LGBTQ crowd. The city also boasts a plethora of sporting leagues that are LGBTQ-specific. The riots at Stonewall Inn have not been forgotten and are still commemorated to this day with the area continuing to draw those whose lives were touched by that event. Learn more about LGBTQ history in New York, NY, and in other cities across the U.S. by checking out the following infographic.


gayborhood guide to america