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Why the Stonewall Riots Were So Important

July 3rd of 2020 marks 51 years since the end of the 1969 Stonewall Riots. June 28th to July 3rd held six days of rioting and protest that took place at the Stonewall Inn; a gay bar in Greenwich, New York.

It’s important to understand the magnitude of homophobia in the 20th century, the 1950s-1960s was a time in which the LGBTQ community faced dangerous amounts of discrimination and brutality from most of the United States, ranging from their own families, to government bodies. Homosexuals were deemed ‘un-American’ by the U.S State department and theorized to be susceptible to blackmail and found to “constitute security risks” resulting in the dismissal of thousands of military and government workers for suspected homosexuality. At the time, homosexuality was considered illegal in all states except Illinois and resulted in thousands of arrests across the country. In their arrests, police were likely to be harsher towards transwomen and drag queens, who were also more likely to be arrested and subject to police brutality than their gender conforming peers. The LGBTQ community was constantly discriminated against by authority figures in the country, with the American Psychiatric Association going so far as list homosexuality as a mental disorder in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 1952, which remained as so until 1974. A senate investigation in 1950 also profiled homosexuals as “sex perverts” and further claimed them to “lack the emotional stability of normal persons.”

The FBI and police departments kept a list of known homosexuals, their friends, and places they frequently visited, the U.S post office was also keeping track of addresses where material pertaining to homosexuality was mailed.

The police department engaged in constant raids of gay bars across the country which would result in fines and arrests for patrons who were inside, on the night of June 28th police raided the Stonewall Inn, sparking the riots we know today. The exact details of the riots are unclear and often misconstrued, but most firsthand accounts credit the beginning of the fight starting after a gender nonconforming lesbian was increasingly manhandled by the police and called out to the crowd for action.

The riots took place over six days and members of the community from all over New York took part. The events that took place at Stonewall Inn were an important part of LGBTQ history and a pivotal moment for the community in their fight. The riots lead to the establishment of the Gay Liberation Front which continued the momentum that stonewall had started and organized the first annual pride march. They were very political and kept the fight for equality and acceptance in the forefront of the community so as not to let the revolution die. Despite their short-lived time as an organization, the group was a call to arms for many. The reason the Stonewall Riots are such an important part of LGBTQ history is because they pushed the community to stop accepting discrimination and violence they dealt with. The community protested and rioted for their equality harder than ever before.


By Madeline McFarlane


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