The Legacy of the Stonewall Riots

Stonewall, 1969 (image via LPC)

The infamous raid on the Stonewall Inn occurred at 3am on June 28th, 1969, and was followed by five nights of ongoing protests. These events came to be known as the Stonewall Riots or Uprising, which is considered to be a major turning point in the gay rights movement, or in many ways the birth of the modern LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) rights movement.

We here at GVSHP have long endeavored to mark the significance of this history. In 1999, GVSHP successfully co-nominated the Stonewall Inn listed for the State and National Register of Historic Places — the first site ever listed on the State and National Registers for a connection to LGBT history.  And in 2015, GVSHP successfully led the effort to designate Stonewall as a NYC Landmark — NYC’s first (and still only, to our chagrin) landmark specifically related to LGBT history.

As we previously reported, after Stonewall, the LGBT community became much more wiling to openly assert their sexuality and voice their opinions. Noted gay activist Frank Kameny, quoted in the National Register listing, states, “by the time of Stonewall we had fifty to sixty gay groups in the country.  A year later there was at least 1,500.  By two years later, to the extent that a count

Click to enlarge- Buried on page 33, an article about the first night of the Stonewall Riots in the New York Times, Sunday, June 29, 1969

could be made, it was 2,500.  And that was the impact of Stonewall.” One year following Stonewall the first LGBT Pride March occurred when thousands of people marched from Christopher Park to Central Park to celebrate the anniversary.

While many people consider Stonewall to be THE major turning point in the gay rights movement, many historians and LGBT advocates take a different view. According to Susan Freeman, associate professor and chair of the department of Gender and Women’s Studies at Western Michigan University, “A longer view of gay and lesbian history works to decenter Stonewall as the all-important turning point, as does recognition of the impact of young liberation activists who moved homophile organizations toward greater militancy…Stonewall as an event took hold of people’s consciousness largely because of the grassroots organizing that followed it, plus the annual commemorations and organizations that adopted the name.”

By no means should this lessen the impact of Stonewall, but we should recognize there were gay activists before Stonewall, who laid much of the groundwork and built the advocacy infrastructure that allowed the gay rights movement to explode in the aftermath of Stonewall.

Read our series on local LGBT History- South Village, NoHo, West Village, and East Village. Read about the LGBT history of Bleecker Street, MacDougal Street, Cooper Square/Bowery, and Christopher Street, And here is a list of LGBTQ resources and information we put together last year.

The fight to preserve LGBT history is not over! We have lost many historic historic sites that played important roles in LGBT history, including the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, St. Vincent’s Hospital, and 186 Spring Street, and are fighting hard to preserve what is left! See a list of important LGBT sites here, or the map below.

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Sam Moskowitz