From our partner, Neighborhood House
June 1, 2021
“A riot is the language of the unheard.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
The month of June has come to be known as Gay Pride Month. This has not always been the case. There was a time when being LGBTQ was not celebrated in such a public way, not only by those in the community but by those who love them. Pride has manifested into a celebration, but it didn’t start that way. If you ask people when did the LGBTQ movement start? They will tell you that it started on June 28, 1969. They will say that it started in a little hole-in-the-wall bar called The Stonewall Inn. People will talk about it as if it just erupted from there. In the newspaper and magazine articles, they write about it using words and phrases such as “the beginning of the LGBTQ movement.”
The truth is that Stonewall was one of many protests and riots and rebellions that were happening around the U.S. In San Francisco, police were raiding gay bars constantly. In 1965, the SFPD raided a New Year’s Eve ball that was being thrown. This raid attracted the attention of media. The LGBTQ community gathered all sorts of support, including from the straight community. It ended up costing the then Police Commissioner his job. It was soon forgotten about, and in 1967 there was a raid conducted in a Los Angeles bar called the Black Cat, which led to a large demonstration of about 400 people. It also led to the founding of the national LGBTQ magazine The Advocate.
Not only were there protests happening around the United States protesting the constant raids that were being conducted across the country, but there were activist groups such as the Society of Human Rights, founded in 1924, the Mattachine Society, which was founded in 1951 and had chapters spread throughout the United States, and The Daughters of Bilitis, founded in San Francisco in 1955.
On June 28, 1969 NYPD conducted yet another raid on the Stonewall Inn. In the early hours of the morning, police showed up and began to arrest employees and people dressed in drag. Bottles and bricks were thrown by people protesting being arrested or resisting arrest. At one point the crowd reached its boiling point and exploded. No one really knows who threw the first bottle or brick, but we do know that the arrest of two transgender women and one woman dressed in men’s clothing blew the top off. The riot lasted for three days.
Stonewall happened not because it was a special kind of happening. The riots at the Stonewall Inn were just one in the long line of riots. It was not organized or planned. The timing was not chosen. Stonewall was a direct reaction to the violence that was being perpetrated against LGBTQ across the US. It was birthed out of men and women loving other men and women and losing their jobs, their livelihood, their freedom, and their lives because they dared to love differently than what society dictated. And the timing? Water doesn’t boil until it hits the right temperature. During this time in history there was already civil unrest around the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement. So the water was at the right temperature and the pot boiled over.
I say all this to center what Gay Pride really is. It is not just a reason for LGBTQ to party and run around in fabulous outfits. It is not just a reason to see old friends. Pride is a remembrance of those who lost their lives, who gave their lives, and who chose to live boldly out and proud. It was a riot, a protest that was derived from courage, bravery, love, and yes, pride. For many of us it is the time when we can be 100% percent authentically who we are with no apologies. It is a time when we can feel safe and celebrate not only who we are, but who we love. A time when we can do this freely and openly.
In the words of the 1990s activist group Act Up, “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” Happy Pride to everyone, but especially those of us who walk in the footsteps of the many who laid the bricks we now walk on.
By Rochelle Hazard, Housing Stability Manager