The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall
rebellion) were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the
gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that took place in the early morning
hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village
neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City.
They are widely considered to constitute the most important event leading to the
gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.
Gay Americans in the 1950s and 1960s faced an anti-gay legal system. Early homophile groups
in the U.S. sought to prove that gay people could be assimilated into society, and they favored
non-confrontational education for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. The last years of the
1960s, however, were very contentious, as many social/political movements were active,
including the Civil Rights Movement, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the anti-Vietnam War
movement. These influences, along with the liberal environment of Greenwich Village, served
as catalysts for the Stonewall riots.
Very few establishments welcomed openly gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Those that did
were often bars, although bar owners and managers were rarely gay. At the time, the Stonewall
Inn was owned by the Mafia. It catered to an assortment of patrons and was known to be
popular among the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens,
transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless
youth. Police raids
on gay bars were routine in the 1960s, but officers quickly lost control of the situation at the
Stonewall Inn. They attracted a crowd that was incited to riot. Tensions between New York City
police and gay residents of Greenwich Village erupted into more protests the next evening, and
again several nights later. Within weeks, Village residents quickly organized into activist groups
to concentrate efforts on establishing places for gays and lesbians to be open about their
sexual orientation without fear of being arrested.
After the Stonewall riots, gays and lesbians in New York City faced gender, race, class, and
generational obstacles to becoming a cohesive community. Within six months, two gay activist
organizations were formed in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three
newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians. Within a few years, gay
rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. On June 28, 1970, the first gay
pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago
commemorating the anniversary of the riots. Similar marches were organized in other cities.
Today, Gay Pride events are held annually throughout the world toward the end of June to mark
the Stonewall riots. The Stonewall National Monument was established at the site in 2016.
SYLVIA RIVERA and MARSHA P. JOHNSON
(July 2, 1951 – February 19, 2002) (August 24, 1945 – July 6, 1992)
Gay liberation & transgender activists, & key figures in the Stonewall uprising in New York in 1969.
Co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), helping homeless young drag
queens & trans women of color.
For much of history, trans people and people of color have been excluded from both the gay rights and
women’s rights movements, in spite of the fact that they are often the most negatively impacted by
gender and sexuality-based discrimination. Two trans women of color, however, refused to be left out
of the fight for equality from the very beginning. Activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were on
the front lines of the fight for trans rights from as early as the 1960s when the movement was just
beginning to gain traction.
Born in 1945 in New Jersey, Marsha P. Johnson was an outspoken African American trans rights/gay
rights/AIDS activist, sex worker, and drag queen during the late 20th century. Famous for her
uniqueness, individuality, passion for equality, and compassion for others, Marsha was truly a one-of-
a-kind woman. Whenever she was asked what the “P” in her name stood for, she famously replied
“Pay it No Mind.” Like the queen that she was, Marsha used the same reply when people pried about
her gender or sexuality.
Sylvia Rivera was born in New York City in 1951; she was of Venezuelan and Puerto Rican descent,
and worked as a trans rights/gay rights activist and drag queen around the same time. Rivera was
orphaned at an early age, and after she began to wear makeup in the 4th grade, Sylvia was thrown out
of her house by her grandmother at the young age of 11. At this point, Rivera began living on the street
and working as a prostitute before she was adopted by the local drag queen community. These
tremendous hardships could not crush Sylvia’s incredible spirit and passion for the fight for equality,
however. As the saying by Gina Carey goes: “A strong woman looks a challenge dead in the eye and
gives it a wink.”
Rivera and Johnson’s paths crossed at the famous Stonewall riots in the Greenwich Village
neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City which catalyzed the modern gay rights movement. At this
point in 1969, the Stonewall Inn was one of the few places in the city that the gay community was able
to commune without suffering harassment from the police and public shaming. Furthermore, the
regular patrons of Stonewall were not the mainstream members of the gay community (white males),
but rather the most marginalized members. The most common patrons at Stonewall were drag
queens, transgender people, butch lesbians, male sex workers, and homeless youth. Most of these
patrons also happened to be living in poverty by virtue of the fact that they were outcasts even in their
own subculture; many were also people of color, as, at the time, much of the gay community tended to
sideline members who were not white.
Marsha P. Johnson was celebrating her 25th birthday at Stonewall during the early morning hours of
June 28th, 1969 when the police began a raid of Stonewall under the guise of busting the
establishment for selling liquor without a license. When the police began arresting and harassing gay
patrons at the club that night, however, the gay community had had enough. Too many times,
establishments across the city where gay patrons congregated had been raided and too many times,
gay patrons had suffered persecution by the police.
At the time it was standard procedure for police
officers to lead women in the club to the bathroom
to verify their sex, and promptly arrest any
crossdressers among the crowd. According to
eyewitness reports, the police also began sexually
harassing lesbian patrons at the bar that night
while they frisked them. At this point a crowd of
sympathizers had begun to gather outside the
inn, and they watched in horror as employees
and drag queens alike were dragged outside
and violently handled by the police before being
shoved into police cars. Finally, when a police
officer clubbed a butch lesbian named Stormé
DeLarverie over the head for saying that her
handcuffs were too tight, a violent riot broke out
and the crowd exploded. They could no longer
stand silently and watch members of their
community be assaulted and unjustly imprisoned
for their sexuality.
Marsha P. Johnson was among the first of the
patrons to resist the police that night, and Sylvia
Rivera among the first in the crowd of onlookers
to take action by throwing a bottle at her police
oppressors. The riots they helped catalyze
spread to surrounding neighborhoods until all
of New York was in an uproar, and continued on
to last several nights. Their bravery, along with the
others at the bar that night, led to the gay liberation
movement: one year after the riots the first gay pride parades were held, and two years after there
were gay rights groups in every major American city.
After Stonewall, Marsha and Sylvia co-founded the organization STAR, or Street Transvestite Action
Revolutionaries, a group dedicated to helping homeless young drag queens and trans women of
color. They dedicated their lives to the fight for equality.
Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera serve as inspirational reminders that, even when the world
seems to be pitted against us, we still must find the strength and courage to stand for what is right.
And if others would try to stand in our way? Pay It No Mind.
UNITY COALITION|COALICION UNIDA is the First & Only organization for the So. Fla. Latinx|Hispanic|LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Community - advancing
Equality and Fairness through Education, Leadership & Awareness since 2002.
UNITY COALITION|COALICION UNIDA es la Primera y Unica organización en el sur de la Florida para la comunidad latinx|hispanx LGBT (lesbianas, gay,bisexual, transgénero)-
avanzando Igualdad, Liderazgo y Conciencia desde el 2002.
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