The Stonewall Uprising
Happy Pride Everyone! June is a joyful & colourful month that we use to celebrate 2SLGBTQ+ individuals everywhere. Although Pride is an exciting time of the year, not just because of all the fun events & the start of that beautiful Alberta summertime heat, we need to remember why we celebrate pride in the first place. Pride is not all about rainbows & glitter – the first pride was far from a celebration. Let’s take a little trip back in time…
In the early morning of June 28th 1969, a mere 50 years ago, the movement for 2SLGBTQ+ liberation began. Police had raided New York City gay club called the Stonewall Inn, roughing up, arresting, & hauling patrons & employees out of the club for well…being a part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. As you can imagine, the 1960’s were not a welcoming time for many 2SLGBTQ+ people. In fact, same-gender relations were illegal in NYC, as it was in many other cities around the world. For this reason, 2SLGBTQ+ people flocked to gay bars & clubs to find refuge & a place to openly express themselves. In response to this, the New York State Liquor Authority penalized and shut down establishments that served alcohol to known or suspected 2SLGBTQ+ individuals.
These police raids were not uncommon but this one came as a surprise as the bar wasn’t tipped off prior (they usually were as the bars were most often owned by mobs). Fed up with constant police harassment and social discrimination, neighbourhood residents and regular patrons hung around the outside of the bar watching events unfold and becoming increasingly agitated at what they saw. Within minutes, a full-blown riot involving hundreds of people began. Although the flames and the crowds dispersed after several hours, the protests began to spread like wildfire and involved thousands of people in the area over the next five days. It’s important to note that Stonewall was not an organized riot but rather a community united by a collective feeling that they had had enough.
Among the riots were three influential people in the community: Zazu Nova, Jackie Hormona, and Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender woman of colour, is credited by most to be the one who “threw the first brick” although it’s not historically confirmed which of the three was actually the first. Following the riots, these three individuals became important figures for the queer community including founders of several organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front. Other organizations by the same name began to form in other influential countries such as the UK & Canada.
Although the Stonewall Uprising was not the first of its time, it is recognized as the undeniable start of the gay liberation movement. Why? Because it was the first time the 2SLGBTQ+ community stood up against their oppressors as one. The community was & still is, rife with division which is why Stonewall was so momentous & talked about to this day. After the riots, organizations for queer rights were formed, peaceful protests were organized, & changes were finally being made.
So yes, Pride is about celebration, love, courage etc…but it’s also about Liberation. We, as a society, are not yet at the “sunshine & rainbows” future that the heroes of Stonewall envisioned for us, but we can get there! Stonewall showed us that when we look out for each other & support people of all genders, races, & orientations, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.
And that’s worth celebrating!