There was a time not that very long ago, when any gathering of gay, lesbian, transgender people were subject to police raids. The laws prohibited homosexuality in public which includes any meeting, social event, church service, or even having a drink at a bar. In fact serving alcohol to a GLT person was against the law in many places. So yes, a person could be arrested for having a beer and the establishment closed for serving that beer. This was not a rare thing it was the normal thing. In today's world such a law and attitude seems archaic and stupid and even laughable. But such laws were not only on the books but enforced often with brutality. GLT people had no legal recourse.
GLT people were certainly not welcome in regular restaurant/bar club type social places so they tried to open their own. GLT clubs and bars would open and end up closing down completely usually within a year because of the constant harassment, arrests, and raids by the police. Homophobia in America was sanctioned by law. The attitude that GLT people could be treated with disrespect and brutality became ingrained in Americans. No wonder this nation's closet was so dark and deep.
During the late 1960's several social uprisings were in force. People were marching, marching, marching and protesting. Blacks for civil rights, hippie's against the "establishment", anti-war demonstrations, the feminist movement, all fighting back against injustice. But not gay, lesbian and transgender Americans. It was the last "community" that all Americans, including those fighting for their own rights, could beat up on.
In New York, the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bar was one of the few places that allowed gays to congregate and even dance at the time. Although it was said to be owned by the mob and the police were paid off, it was habitually raided by New York City police. Until patrons began fighting back on June 28, 1969.
Usually undercover and uniformed police would enter the club, turn on the lights, shut off the music and even confiscate the liquor. The patrons were lined up and some arrested, some let go and sometimes the bar could resume business after the night's raid. But, on this night, as patrons were let go they did not scurry and flee as usual. They waited outside. Some patrons were bold enough to dance around in the face of the police. They were encouraged by the applause from the growing crowd. More police arrived and of course they weren't pleased and were surprised by the crowd. The patrons did not go quietly as usual. A scuffle broke out during the arrests.
That night the street erupted into violent protest as the crowd fought back. As word spread throughout the city about the demonstration, the customers of the Stonewall Inn were soon joined by other gay men and women who started throwing objects at the policemen, shouting "gay power".
Police reinforcements arrived and beat the crowd away, but the next night, the crowd returned, even larger than the night before, with numbers reaching over 1000. For hours, protesters rioted outside the Stonewall Inn until the police sent a riot-control squad to disperse the crowd. For days following, demonstrations of varying intensity took place throughout the city.
Out of this tumult was born a civil rights movement for LGBT -- lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
The Stonewall riots inspired LGBT people throughout the country to organize in support of gay rights, and within two years after the riots, gay rights groups had been started in nearly every major city in the United States.
Gay icon Judy Garland died in London on 6-22-1969. Her body was brought to New York City for an elaborate funeral. That was on June 27th. Early in the morning on the next day, the Stonewall riots began and the gay rights movement was started. For many in the gay community, there is a direct link between the high emotions of Garland's death and the police shutting off her music and not allowing them to mourn someone important to them. Someone who respected them. With tensions already high between the gay community and police, perhaps it was the last straw.
On the 1st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first gay pride parades in U.S. history took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and near the Stonewall Inn in New York.
June 28, 2009 will mark the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Gay Pride Parades will take place in cities all over America. A different America to be sure. Honor will be again paid to the brave patrons of the Stonewall Inn who stood up and fought back. Some turned over police wagons, some formed a kick line and simply refused to run away. That's where it started, both brutal and Fabulous. I'll think of them tomorrow at Chicago's parade and be grateful I don't have to worry about raids or buying a beer. I'll just say thanks and enjoy the fabulous.
Grand Marshal of this year's Chicago Pride parade is my friend actor/singer, teacher and activist, Alexandra Billings. She is the first Transgender person to lead the Chicago Pride parade.
Alex is an excellent choice for this momentous 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. She has been a trail blazer both in her career and in her social activism. And she is truly fabulous!