Door Key

The Stonewall Uprising

June 06, 2024 April Episode 62
The Stonewall Uprising
Door Key
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Door Key
The Stonewall Uprising
Jun 06, 2024 Episode 62
April

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June is Pride Month, and Door Key is celebrating that by talking about The Stonewall Uprising today!

The Stonewall Uprising was a series of protests by members of the LGBTQ+ community. These protests were in response to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York that started on June 28, 1969.

These protests did get violent, but they were the event that led to the rise of the push for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, and recognition of those rights.

The Stonewall Uprising inspired the Gay Pride movement, and is a big part of why we celebrate Pride Month every June!



This episode was edited by Stephanie Fuccio of Coffeelike Media.

https://www.stephfuccio.com/



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Show Notes Transcript

🥰 I would love to hear from you - click here to send Door Key a written message!

June is Pride Month, and Door Key is celebrating that by talking about The Stonewall Uprising today!

The Stonewall Uprising was a series of protests by members of the LGBTQ+ community. These protests were in response to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York that started on June 28, 1969.

These protests did get violent, but they were the event that led to the rise of the push for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, and recognition of those rights.

The Stonewall Uprising inspired the Gay Pride movement, and is a big part of why we celebrate Pride Month every June!



This episode was edited by Stephanie Fuccio of Coffeelike Media.

https://www.stephfuccio.com/



Support the Show.

😍 NEW Subscribe to the Door Key Substack newsletter FREE and paid options:
https://doorkey.substack.com/
There's even a special series in the newsletter about Bridgerton, just in case you're as obsessed as I am about it! 😍

😎 Saiv Boutique 😎 10% discount: on amazing clothes, accessories, and shoes at
https://saivboutique.com/discount/DOORKEY

Follow Door Key on Social Media:

💸 Support Door Key:
If you'd like, there are many ways you can support the show:

  • Become a paid subscriber on the Door Key Substack newsletter OR become a free subscriber and interact in the comments, share the newsletter, etc: https://doorkey.substack.com/
  • Buy me a cup of coffee at buymeacoffee.com: http...

The Stonewall Uprising

Hello everyone! June is Pride Month, and I’m going to be celebrating that by talking about The Stonewall Uprising today.

The Stonewall Uprising were protests by members of the LGBTQ+ community. These protests were in response to a raid by police that was at the Stonewall Inn, which was in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in New York City. This raid happened in the early morning of June 28, 1969. These protests are widely considered the event that changed the gay liberation movement and the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the US, so I’m really excited to talk about them.

There’s background and context needed for this though. There was a lot of social upheaval during World War II, and once it was over, many people in the US wanted to quote ‘restore the prewar social order and hold off the forces of change’ unquote. There was a huge spotlight put on anti-communism due to Senator Joseph McCarthy and the hearings conducted by his House of UnAmerican Activities Committee. They were looking for communists in the US government, the military, and other government-funded agencies, leading to a national paranoia. Communists, Anarchists, and other people deemed un-American or subversive were considered security risks. Gay men and lesbians were also included on this list by the US State Department because it was thought that they were susceptible to blackmail. One of my sources says that between 1947 and 1950, 1,700 federal job applications were denied, 4,380 people were discharged from the military, and 420 people were fired from their government jobs – all for being suspected of being gay.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the FBI and police departments would keep lists of people who were known to be gay, who their friends were, and were they liked to hang out. The US Post Office even kept track of addresses where any gay material was mailed. State and local governments did this too: bars catering to gay men and lesbians were shut down, and their customers were arrested and exposed in newspapers. Cities would perform "sweeps" to rid neighborhoods, parks, bars, and beaches of gay people. They outlawed the wearing of opposite-gender clothes and universities expelled instructors suspected of being gay. In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association even listed homosexuality in the DSM as a mental disorder.  

Due to all of this, very few establishments welcomed gay people in the 1950s and 1960s. Due to the illegal nature of gay bars at the time, those that did were often run by organized crime groups. So … the background and context for The Stonewall Uprising: Not Great, Bob. But they would get better.

The last years of the 1960s saw many social and political movements, including the civil rights movement, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the anti-Vietnam War movement. All of those movements would serve as a sort of catalyst for the Stonewall Uprising.

In response to all of this discrimination, the Mattachine Society was formed in Los Angeles in 1950, and the Daughters of Bilitis was formed in San Francisco in 1955. The goal of these two organizations was to advance the cause of gay men and lesbians, and provide opportunities where they could socialize without fear of being arrested.

Other organizations formed, and started to test the courts. One example is in 1953, when an organization named ONE, Inc. published a magazine called ONE. The US Postal Service refused to mail its August issue, because it talked about gay people in straight marriages. This was on the grounds that the material was obscene, even though it was covered in brown paper wrapping. The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1958 ruled that ONE, Inc. could mail its materials through the Postal Service.

Slowly but surely, members of these organizations grew bolder. A chapter of the Mattachine was founded in Washington DC by a man named Frank Kameny. He had been fired from the US Army Map Service for being gay and sued to be reinstated, which was unsuccessful.

There were some protests before what happened at Stonewall: In 1959, LGBTQ+ people protested at the Cooper Do-nuts cafe in Los Angeles in response to police harassment. There was an even larger protest in San Francisco in 1966 at Compton’s Cafetria. Police arrived to arrest LGBTQ+ people because there were people who appeared to be physically male who were presenting as women. This protest was stronger than the one in LA – windows, glasses and plates were broken.

There was an active gay community on the east coast as well. The neighborhoods in Manhattan of Greenwich Village and Harlem were home to large gay and lesbian populations after World War I. These groups developed a distinct subculture through the following two decades. 

Prohibition also benefited gay establishments, as drinking alcohol was pushed underground. New York City passed laws against homosexuality in public and private businesses, but because alcohol was in high demand, speakeasies and impromptu drinking establishments were so numerous and temporary that authorities were unable to police them. However, police raids continued, resulting in many establishments closing.

The overall conformity of society in the 1950s caused a cultural revolution in Greenwich Village. A group of poets, later called Beat poets, wrote about the evils of the social organization at the time. They glorified anarchy, drugs, and hedonistic pleasures over unquestioning social compliance, consumerism, and closed-mindedness. They also wrote bluntly and honestly about sexuality.

New York was going to be hosting the 1964 World’s Fair. The Mayor of New York was concerned about the image of the city, so made plans to, air quotes here, ‘clean up the city’. One item on his to-do list was to rid the city of all the gay bars. The city revoked the liquor licenses of those bars, and undercover police officers worked to entrap as many gay men as possible. Sidenote: this would usually entail an undercover officer finding a man in a bar or public park, and engaging him in conversation. If the conversation headed toward the two of them leaving together, or the officer bought the man a drink, the man would be arrested for solicitation. This was actually even worse in practice than it sounds on paper: one story in the New York Post described an arrest in a gym locker room, where the officer grabbed himself and moaned. A man who asked him if he was all right was arrested. To make things worse, not many lawyers would defend cases like this, and some of those lawyers even kicked back their fees to the arresting officer. So again: Not great, Bob.

A new mayor of New York City was elected, and The Mattachine Society was successful in getting him to end the practice of police entrapment, which good. However, they had a more difficult time with the New York State Liquor Authority. Technically, no laws prohibited serving gay people, but courts allowed discretion to approve or revoke liquor licenses for businesses that might become what they considered ‘disorderly’. This led to a disproportionally low numbers of places where gay people were able to congregate openly without being harassed or arrested. In 1966, a "sip-in" at a Greenwich Village bar called Julius was held to illustrate this discrimination.

Another thing about these gay bars: none of them were owned by gay people. Almost all of them were owned and controlled by organized crime. They would treat the regulars poorly, and overcharged for drinks that they would water down. But, they also paid off police to prevent frequent raids.

So now that we have all the background and context, that brings us to The Stonewall Inn, which is located at 51 and 53 Christopher Street. It, along with several other establishments in the city, was owned by the Genovese crime family. In 1966, three members of the Mafia invested $3,500 to turn the Stonewall Inn into a gay bar. Once a week a police officer would collect envelopes of cash as a payoff, as the Stonewall Inn had no liquor license.

It didn’t have running water behind the bar either — dirty glasses were run through tubs of water and immediately reused. There were no fire exits, and the toilets overran constantly. Health and safety violations aside, it was the only bar for gay men in New York City where dancing was allowed, and dancing was its main draw.

I’m going to read this next bit straight from Wikipedia. It’s the process by which people got into the Stonewall Inn: Visitors to the Stonewall Inn in 1969 were greeted by a bouncer who inspected them through a peephole in the door. The legal drinking age was 18 and to avoid unwittingly letting in undercover police, visitors would have to be known by the doorman or 'look gay'. Patrons were required to sign their names in a book to prove that the bar was a private ‘bottle club’, but they rarely signed their real names. 

There were two dance floors in the Stonewall. The interior was painted black, which made it very dark inside, with pulsing gel lights or black lights. If police were spotted, regular white lights were turned on, signaling that everyone should stop dancing or touching. 

The age of the clientele ranged between the upper teens and early thirties and because of its mix of people, its location, and the attraction of dancing, the Stonewall Inn was known by many as "the gay bar in the city".

Police raids on gay bars were frequent, occurring about once a month for each bar. Many bars kept extra liquor in a secret panel behind the bar, or in a car down the block, so they could return to business as quickly as possible if alcohol was seized. Bar management usually knew about the raids beforehand due to police tip-offs, and raids occurred early enough in the evening that business could resume after the police had finished. During a typical raid, the lights were turned on and customers were lined up and their ID checked. Those without ID or dressed in full drag were arrested, others were allowed to leave. Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing and would be arrested if found not wearing them. Typically, employees and management of the bars were also arrested. 

The period immediately before June 28, 1969, had frequent raids of local bars — including a raid at the Stonewall Inn on the Tuesday before — and the closing of several clubs in Greenwich Village.

Now we come to the raid of The Stonewall Inn on Saturday, June 28, 1969. Two undercover policemen and two undercover policewomen entered the bar early that evening to gather visual evidence, while the Public Morals Squad waited outside for the signal. Once ready, the undercover officers called for backup from the bar's pay telephone.

I’ve mentioned that these bars were usually tipped off before a raid was going to happen, but Stonewall employees don’t remember being tipped off that a raid was going to happen there that night.

At 1:20 a.m., four plainclothes policemen in dark suits, two patrol officers in uniform, Detective Charles Smythe, and Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine arrived and announced ‘Police!’ The music was turned off and the main lights were turned on. About 205 people were in the bar that night. Patrons who had never experienced a police raid were confused. A few who realized what was happening began to run for doors and windows in the bathrooms, but police barred the doors.

Here's a quote from someone who was there that night: ‘Things happened so fast you kind of got caught not knowing. All of a sudden there were police there and we were told to all get in lines and to have our identification ready to be led out of the bar.’

This raid didn’t go as planned. The standard procedure was to line up the patrons, check their ID, and have female police officers take customers dressed as women to the bathroom to verify their sex. Any people appearing to be physically male and dressed as a woman would be arrested. But those dressed as women that night refused to go with the officers. Men in line began to refuse to produce their ID.

The police decided to take everyone present to the police station. All parties involved recall that a sense of discomfort spread very quickly, started by police who assaulted some of the patrons while frisking them.

Here’s a quote from an anonymous Stonewall Uprising participant: Now, times were a-changin'. Tuesday night was the last night for bulls@%! ... Predominantly, the theme was, ‘this s@%! has got to stop!’

Twenty-eight cases of beer and nineteen bottles of hard alcohol were seized. But the vans to transport all that alcohol hadn’t arrived yet. Patrons were made to wait in line for about 15 minutes.

Those who weren’t arrested were released, but they didn’t leave quickly like they usually did. Instead, they stopped outside, and a crowd began to grow and watch. Within minutes, between 100 and 150 people had congregated outside. Some of that number were people after they were released from inside The Stonewall, and some from off the street after noticing the police cars and the crowd. The police forced some patrons out of the bar by pushing or kicking them, and these people would perform for the crowd by posing and saluting the police in an exaggerated fashion. The crowd's applause encouraged them further.

When the first patrol van arrived, they saw that the crowd had grown to at least ten times the number of people who were arrested. There was some confusion over radio communication, which delayed the arrival of a second police van. The police began escorting Mafia members into the first van, and the bystanders cheered. Next, regular employees were loaded. A bystander shouted, "Gay power!", someone began singing "We Shall Overcome", and the crowd reacted with what’s described as quote ‘amusement and general good humor’. An officer shoved one person in drag, who responded by hitting him on the head with her purse. The cop clubbed her over the head, as the crowd began to boo. Author Edmund White, who had been passing by, recalled: ‘Everyone's restless, angry, and high-spirited. No one has a slogan, no one even has an attitude, but something's brewing.’ Pennies, then beer bottles, were thrown at the van as a rumor spread through the crowd that patrons still inside the bar were being beaten.

Things were escalating: a woman in handcuffs was escorted from the door of the bar to the waiting police van several times. She escaped repeatedly, and fought with four of the police, swearing and shouting, for about ten minutes. One witness claimed that she had been hit on the head by an officer with a baton for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight. People said that the woman sparked the crowd to fight when she looked at bystanders and shouted, "Why don't you guys do something?" After an officer picked her up and threw her into the back of the van, the crowd became violent and became a mob. Sidenote: The identity of this woman remains unknown.

So now things were really heating up: the police tried to restrain some of the crowd, and ended up knocking some of them down, which just incited the bystanders even more. Some people who were handcuffed in the van escaped when police left them unattended. The crowd tried to overturn the police van. All of this commotion attracted even more people who saw what was happening. Someone in the crowd declared that the bar had been raided because quote ‘they didn't pay off the cops’, to which someone else yelled, ‘Let's pay them off!’

Coins flew through the air towards the police as the crowd shouted slurs to the officers. Beer cans were thrown, and the police lashed out. They attempted to disperse some of the crowd, who had found a construction site nearby with stacks of bricks.

The police were outnumbered by 500 to 600 people. They grabbed several people, one of the people they grabbed was activist folk singer Dave Van Ronk who had been attracted to the protest from a bar two doors away from the Stonewall.

Van Ronk had experienced police violence when he participated in antiwar demonstrations: ‘As far as I was concerned, anybody who'd stand against the cops was all right with me and that's why I stayed in ... Every time you turned around the cops were pulling some outrage or another.

Van Ronk was the first of thirteen arrested that night. Ten police officers barricaded themselves and several handcuffed detainees inside the Stonewall Inn for their own safety.

Multiple accounts of the uprising assert that there was no pre-existing organization or apparent cause for the demonstration; what ensued was spontaneous. 

The Mattachine Society newsletter a month later offered its explanation of why the uprising occurred: ‘It catered largely to a group of people who are not welcome in, or cannot afford, other places of homosexual social gathering ... The Stonewall became home to these kids. When it was raided, they fought for it. That and the fact that they had nothing to lose other than the most tolerant and broadminded gay place in town, explains why.’

Garbage cans, bottles, rocks, and bricks were hurled at the building, breaking the windows. A parking meter was uprooted and used as a battering ram on the doors of the Stonewall Inn.

The protesters lit garbage on fire and stuffed it through the broken windows as the police grabbed a fire hose. But the hose had no water pressure, so was ineffective in dispersing the crowd and seemed only to encourage them. Sidenote: Yeah … call me naïve, but when I read this, I assumed that the fire hose was grabbed to put the actual fire out, and did a bit of a double-take when I realized that it was actually to use on people!

Things were about to get worse: the police got out their guns. Officers pointed their weapons at the angry crowd, threatening to shoot. One man who was in the bar said he watched someone squirt lighter fluid into the bar. Sirens were heard and fire trucks arrived. The protest had lasted 45 minutes.

There was a Women’s House of Detention down the street from The Stonewall, and they even joined the protest by chanting, setting fire to their belongings and tossing them into the street below.

The Tactical Police Force of the New York City Police Department arrived to free the police that were trapped inside the Stonewall. One officer's eye was cut and a few others were bruised from being hit by flying debris. 

One man who was walking his dog by the Stonewall that night, saw the Tactical Police Force arrive, and this is what he had to say about it:

‘I had been in enough riots to know the fun was over ... The cops were totally humiliated. This never, ever happened. They were angrier than I guess they had ever been because everybody else had rioted ... but no group had ever forced cops to retreat before, so the anger was just enormous. I mean, they wanted to kill.’

Now that they had larger numbers, police detained anyone they could and put them in patrol vans to go to jail.

The Tactical Police Force formed a phalanx, and attempted to clear the streets by marching slowly and pushing the crowd back. Sidenote: a phalanx is a body of troops or police officers standing or moving in close formation – thanks Google!

The crowd openly mocked the police. They cheered, and started impromptu kick lines and sang a song.

One participant who had been in the Stonewall during the raid recalled: ‘The police rushed us and that's when I realized this is not a good thing to do, because they got me in the back with a nightstick.’

Another account said: ‘I just can't ever get that one sight out of my mind. The cops with their nightsticks and the kick line on the other side. It was the most amazing thing ... And all the sudden that kick line, which I guess was a spoof on the machismo ... I think that's when I felt rage. Because people were getting smashed with bats. And for what? A kick line.’

By 4:00 a.m., the streets were almost cleared. Many people sat on stoops or gathered nearby in Christopher Park throughout the morning, not believing what had happened. Many people remembered the surreal and almost eerie quiet that descended upon Christopher Street, though there was still quote ‘electricity in the air’. One commented: ‘There was a certain beauty in the aftermath of the riot ... It was obvious, at least to me, that a lot of people really were gay and, you know, this was our street.’  Thirteen people had been arrested. Some in the crowd were hospitalized, and four police officers were injured. Almost everything in the Stonewall Inn was broken. Pay phones, toilets, mirrors, jukeboxes, cigarette machines … all smashed. Possibly by the protesters and possibly by the police.

News of what happened at The Stonewall spread, along with rumors about what it had been caused by. All the next day, people came to look at the burned and blackened Stonewall Inn. Graffiti appeared on the walls of the bar, declaring ‘They invaded our rights’, ‘Support gay power’ and ‘Legalize gay bars’, and, my personal favorite – regarding the status of the bar: ‘We are open.’

As bad as things got that Friday night, they picked up again the next night. Protests again surrounded Christopher Street. Many of the same people returned from the previous evening. Participants remember differently which night was more frantic or violent. This was one of the first real outcry of the public on behalf of members of the LBGTQ+ community. One witness described it like this: ‘From going to places where you had to knock on a door and speak to someone through a peephole in order to get in. We were just out. We were in the streets.’

Thousands of people had gathered in front of the Stonewall spilling out into adjoining blocks. The crowd surrounded buses and cars, harassing the occupants. 

As on the previous evening, fires were started in garbage cans throughout the neighborhood. More than a hundred police were there, but after 2:00 a.m. the Tactical Police Force arrived again. More kick lines and police chases … when police captured demonstrators, the crowd surged to recapture them. This all ensued until 4:00 a.m like it had the previous night.

Beat poet and longtime Greenwich Village resident Allen Ginsberg lived on Christopher Street and came across the chaos. Here’s what he had to say after he learned what had occurred: ‘Gay power! Isn't that great! ... It's about time we did something to assert ourselves’.

Activity in the area was sporadic the next few days, due to rain. Police and Village residents did antagonize each other, but things didn’t get to the level of the first two nights.

The morning after the first night, 5,000 leaflets were printed and distributed with different sayings on them, one of them was: ‘Get the Mafia and the Cops out of Gay Bars.’ The leaflets called for gay people to own their own establishments, for a boycott of the Stonewall and other Mafia-owned bars, and asked for public pressure on the mayor's office to investigate the intolerable situation.

To be clear, not everyone in the gay community considered the insurrection a good thing. A lot of the community felt that what had happened went against everything they’d been working for, and did not agree with the violence. Others quote ‘found the closing of the Stonewall Inn, termed a ‘sleaze joint’, as advantageous to the Village’.

That Wednesday, another protest was started when The Village Voice ran reports of the protests that called the protesters slurs. The Village Voice was headquartered just down the street from The Stonewall, and a mob of between 500 and 1000 people descended upon Christopher Street once again and threatened to burn down the offices of The Village Voice.

All of this protesting led to a feeling of urgency throughout Greenwich Village. Many sensed the opportunity to take action, and wanted to use this energy to organize.

On July 4, 1969, the Mattachine Society performed its annual picket in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, which they called their Annual Reminder. Organizers, who had all participated for several years, took a bus from New York City to Philadelphia. Since 1965, these protests had been very controlled: women wore skirts, and men wore suits and ties, and all marched quietly in organized lines. 

But this year was different. Couples of the same sex felt brave enough to hold hands. These hand-holding couples earned more press attention than all the previous marches. One participant put it like this: ‘It was clear that things were changing. People who had felt oppressed now felt empowered.’ People returned to New York City determined to change the established quiet, meek ways of trying to get attention. One of his first priorities was planning Christopher Street Liberation Day.

This empowerment wasn’t just felt in New York – it was worldwide. There was a gay rights demonstration in London, and the Gay Liberation Front held its first meeting in the UK in October of 1970, which led to the first British Gay Pride March in 1972.

Which leads me to what I think is The Stonewall Uprising’s greatest legacy …

June 28, 1970, marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. There was an assembly on Christopher Street, and Gay Pride marches in Los Angeles and Chicago, which were the first Gay Pride marches in US history. The next year, even more Gay Pride marches took place: in Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, and Stockholm. The march in New York covered 51 blocks – from Christopher Street to Central Park. The New York Times reported on the front page that the marchers took up the entire street for about 15 city blocks.

By 1972, the participating cities included Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Miami, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, as well as San Francisco.

Ok, I’ll stop listing years and cities now – the point I’m trying to make is that the Gay Pride movement grew from the Stonewall Uprising. Gay Pride is still celebrated today – it’s huge, and that’s so amazing to me!

I don’t like that things got to the point that the Stonewall Uprising had to happen – it breaks my heart. But I can’t say that I blame the LBGTQ+ community for being so angry, and I’m so happy that they found their voice, and still continue to speak out today. I started this episode out by celebrating Pride Month, and I’m going to end it that way. It might take its time, but I truly believe that love and truth will always win in the end.

I’m going to end this episode with a quote from one of the participants in the uprising: ‘We all had a collective feeling like we'd had enough of this kind of s@%!. It wasn't anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place and it was not an organized demonstration ... Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us ... All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren't going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around — it's like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way and that's what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue and we're going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren't going to go away. And we didn't.’

Here are some of the sources I used for this episode:
History.com / Harvard.edu / National Geographic / Wikipedia

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