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What happened at Stonewall?

On the 28th June 1969, 52 years ago, police raided the Stonewall Inn – a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. It was 1am on a Friday night, and the place was packed. Ordinarily the bar received tip-offs about impending raids, but this time, they had no warning. 

Six police officers barred the doors and windows, turned on the lights, and began to take anyone feminine-presenting they suspected of being assigned male to the bathroom to verify their sex. Lesbians were sexually assaulted by police who groped them under the pretext of searching them. Trans people refused to show the police their identities for fear of being publicly outed. Tensions were high. 

Customers released by the police, some 150 of them, began to congregate outside the bar, joined by passersby drawn to the commotion. The police began to escort those they suspected of crossdressing outside and load them into wagons to take to the police station. By the time the first wagon arrived, however, there were ten times as many queer people in the crowd as those the police had arrested. As the crowd became aware that queer people inside the bar were still being abused by police, they hurled pennies and bottles at the wagons. 

A queer woman (allegedly Black butch lesbian and drag king Stormé DeLarverie) resisted arrest bravely, despite being subjected to violence by the officers who hit her with batons. This incensed the crowd, who by this time outnumbered the officers 600 to one. Some, including trans women of colour Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, seized bricks from a nearby construction site and bombarded the police with them, forcing them to retreat into the bar and barricade the doors. The crowd laid siege to the inn until the New York City Police Department came to help the officers inside. Three nights of uprising followed, and in the aftermath, countless gay rights groups formed.

A year later on the anniversary of Stonewall, the first Pride events took place in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles. In their rundown of the last fifty years of LGBTQ+ history, Stonewall describes the anniversary of the uprising as ‘a reminder of the power of standing together in defiance of those who seek to divide us’.