At about one o’clock in the morning, June 28, 1969, the New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, a seedy gay bar on Christopher Street, which was run by the Mafia, the second time this week. The cops checked the ID of everyone in the bar, and those who had proper identification were released. Each person had to be wearing clothes proper to his or her gender. Those not wearing gender-correct clothes were arrested.
The Stonewall was one of the few bars in all of New York that allowed dancing between same-sex couples. It was a gay bar, right in the middle of the gay neighborhood, and gay people in the Village thought of it as their bar even though it was owned by the Mafia. What the cops were doing was taking away from a disadvantaged population one of the few places where they could be themselves.
At first, as each person was released, she went to the door of the bar and greeted friends already on the street with posing and some camp witticism. Most of the patrons of the bar had been through this before, but tonight the patrons didn’t go home. They gathered around the door of the bar and cheered and clapped as each new one came out. Tension was rising.
Then cops dragged out a large woman who resisted the harsh treatment from the cops—they beat her with their billyclubs—and wouldn’t go quietly. She fought the cops all the way from the door of the bar to the police car across Christopher Street. When they got her to the door of the car, she put her feet on each side of the door and pushed hard, and the cops couldn’t get her in. She broke loose. They recaptured her, beat her, got her into the car again, and she slid through the car to freedom on the other side. The whole large crowd in front of the door of the bar watched silently, tensely. They could hear the sounds of breaking glass as cops used sledgehammers to break up the cash registers, the glass ware, and liquor bottles. Then one voice spoke up, “Why don’t you guys help her!” (p. 151). The crowd went insane. The cops got the large woman into the car and drove away, tires slashed.
This is just the beginning of the first riot on Saturday morning. I’ll pick it up at this point—just as things get insane—in my next post. Hang in there. This is the most important thing that has happened to gay people in a hundred years, or maybe forever.
This account was based on David Carter’s Stonewall, St Martins Griffin, New York, 2004. Page numbers in parentheses are to this edition.