Femke Lippens

The Stonewall Riots Were a Queer and Black-Led Revolution

The riots following the murder of George Floyd receive a lot of criticism. The truth is that periods of upheaval have previously acted as a stepping stone to actual change and progress. Since it’s also Pride Month in America, let’s take a look at the Stonewall riots, which were responsible for the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and the Pride parades we know and love today.

On the 28th of June, 1969, eight officers from the New York Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. Back then, these raids would happen all the time because there were enforced laws for gambling, prostitution, narcotics, but also homosexuality. So, cops could arrest people and force hospitalization just because they were gay.

The origin of Pride

This specific raid became different when the bar patrons suddenly fought back. Accounts vary on what happened exactly, but many say that butch biracial lesbian Stormé DeLarverie threw the first punch. Others say black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson started the riots by yelling “I got my civil rights!” and proceeding to throw a shot glass into a mirror. And a third account said it started when Johnson and transgender woman of color Sylvia Rivera resisted arrest and were the first to throw a brick at police offers. Whatever the truth may be, it is well known that the Stonewall riots started with Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman of color.

Still from 'The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson' on Netflix. On the left we see Marsha P. Johnson with her close friend Sylvia Rivera on the right.

LGBTQ+ people and allies started protesting. Rioters destroyed their surroundings out of anger and the police ended up barricading themselves inside the Stonewall Inn. Other forces tried to intervene, but even they were run out of the neighborhood. Once the word got out about the riots, they turned into huge protests that lasted for six days.

The following year, 1970, the anniversary of the Stonewall riots was celebrated by demonstrations across different states, with parades that promoted the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community. The participants would advocate LGBTQ+ rights, protection against harassment, and fight for marriage equality. Their voices became heard.

In the 1980s, “Gay Pride” was established as the official name of the event and started reoccurring in a more peaceful manner every year. They turned into parties and represented a time of togetherness and acceptance.

The world today

More and more countries are legalizing same-sex marriage but the stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community is still very prevalent. However, thanks to the Stonewall riots we have Gay Pride which led to same-sex marriage. So if you’re wondering why people are gathering on the streets for Black Lives Matter it’s because history has proven time and time again that protesting, rioting, does work.

We should all be standing up and marching for the Black Lives Matter movement. Especially the LGBTQ+ community because we wouldn’t be able to be ourselves without Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who fought for her and our civil rights.

Black transgender activist and drag queen Marsha P. Johnson. Still taken from the Netflix documentary 'The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson'.

Let us come together (with our masks on) during this time and fight for equality. Creating awareness and spreading information is incredibly important because especially people of color still experience discrimination every single day.

Educate yourself

Learn more about the Stonewall riots and the inspirational life but suspicious death of Marsha P. Johnson in the Netflix documentary The Death And Life Of Marsha P. Johnson.

If you want to get educated, check out our article on How To Educate Yourself About Racism And White Privilege. You can also donate to different organizations. We sum up a few for you:

The NAACP Legal Defence Fund: this is an organization fighting for racial equality;

Black Visions Collective: this is a black-, trans-, and queer-led organization in affiliation with the Black Lives Matter Global Network;

Black Lives Matter: this is an organization that has the mission statement to bring justice, freedom, and healing to black people across the globe.

If you want to do even more, check out this Google Document with organizations to donate to, petitions to sign, and how to better educate yourself. 

Photo credits: Netflix

New York City Pride Parade in more modern times. Photo by Johnny Sun

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