Today in labor history: Stonewall sparks gay rights movement

Today is the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall demonstrations that broke out in New York City, the actions subsequently regarded as the launching of the gay liberation movement in the United States. The demonstrations in New York inspired lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people throughout the nation to organize in support of gay rights, and within two years LGBT rights groups began operating in every major city in the United States.

On June 28, 1969, there were few places across this nation where people could be openly gay. New York City itself, considered the bastion of “liberal” America, had laws prohibiting homosexuality in public. Private businesses that served gay people and of course gay establishments were regularly raided and shut down.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, police entered the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in Greenwich Village, and systematically began harassing customers. Angry about the verbal and then physical harassment, the customers fought back and were soon joined by others in the neighborhood.

The police attacked the gathering crowd. When word got out gay men and women began arriving from all over the city. Hundreds joined in a street fight against the club-wielding police who beat anyone they perceived as being gay. Police reinforcements arrived and they stepped up the attack on the crowd, forcing it to retreat.

But the next night the crowd and reinforcements of gay men and women from all over the city returned again, this time numbering well over 1,000. For hours the crowds demonstrated outside the Stonewall Inn against the police violence.

The police sent in a riot-control squad to disperse the demonstration but for days afterward, bigger and bigger crowds showed up to continue the demonstrations.

After the demonstrations, LGBT people began forming advocacy and rights groups. Among the first was the Gay Liberation Front, which was the first group to use the word “gay” in its name, and a citywide newspaper called Gay.

By the time the first anniversary of Stonewall had rolled around on June 28, 1970, gay pride parades took place not just near Stonewall in New York but in Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Within two years gay rights groups had sprung up all across the country.

President Obama, in his 2012 inauguration speech after his reelection, paid homage to the Stonewall demonstrators for their role in advancing civil and human rights.

Photo: Police force people back outside the Stonewall Inn as tensions escalate the morning of June 28, 1969. (Wikipedia)




John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.