Stonewall, Remembered

Gay Pride Rainbow Flag (LEO Design)

The Stonewall Inn was a restaurant and bar in Greenwich Village.  In 1966, three mafiosi bought the Inn and re-opened it as a gay bar.  It quickly became popular because management allowed dancing—despite NYC law forbidding men dancing together.  Indeed, it was illegal to even serve a drink to a “known homosexual.” The Stonewall had no liquor license, no fire escapes, no means of washing glasses, and the toilets were constantly overflowing.  Nevertheless, the mafia were allowed to operate as long as they paid-off the police.  Each week, a cop would come in to collect envelopes of cash. To “keep-up appearances,” the police would raid The Stonewall about once a month—seizing any liquor found on-site.  As a courtesy, the cops usually would raid early in the evening which allowed management to re-stock the booze, stored in a car down the street.  Gay patrons put-up with the high prices, filthy conditions, and police humiliation because they had never known anything else.

In the early morning hours of this day in 1969 (a Saturday), the police showed-up and announced they were “taking the place.”  They began leading arrested patrons out to the street to find that the transport wagons had not yet arrived.  As the number of arrested patrons increased—and neighborhood on-lookers swelled the crowds—tempers began to flare-up.  At some point, the crowd, fed-up with years of this treatment, began to riot. The frightened cops cowered within the bar for two-and-a-half hours until reinforcements arrived and broke-up the rioting.

For several nights, the protests continued—though not as violently as they had on the first night.  “The Stonewall Riots,” as they are now known, are recognized as the start of America’s modern gay rights movement and are commemorated with an annual Gay Pride Parade (the last Sunday of June).