On Friday, June 27, 1969, eight officers from the public morals section of the first division New York City Police Department pulled up in front of the Stonewall Inn, one of the city’s largest and most popular gay bars. At the time, the vice squad routinely raided gay bars. Sodomy was still illegal, as was wearing clothing deemed to be “inappropriate” for your gender. The raids were met with compliance by the queer community - out of fear of arrest or being outed to their community, or by the newspapers which regularly reported the names of those arrested.
But this particular Friday night was different. It sparked a revolution, and a hidden subculture was transformed into a vibrant political movement. What began with a drag queen clobbering her arresting officer soon escalated into a full-fledged riot, and modern gay activism was born. And whether it was the heat, the recent death of Judy Garland, or the uprising of a civil rights movement, the police raid on June 28, 1969 became the start of a revolution. The community fought back. After all, the Stonewall Inn was a home for those who had no where else to go, and they protected it. When the cops came in undercover - they asked everyone to line up in front of the bar to check ID’s and to see who was cross-dressing. The patrons that night started to refused. The cops led them outside to wait for transport to the station. But then, a crowd started to grow. People started throwing beer cans at the cops. Then bricks from a nearby construction site. And it grew as more people came. The police, outnumbered by 500, barricaded themselves in the bar. “Flame Queens” hustlers, and gay “street kids” threw the first volley of projectiles at the bar. Sylvia Rivera, a self-identified “Street Queen” said
“you’ve been treating us like shit all these years? Uh huh, Now it’s our turn!… It was one of the greatest moments in my life.”
Tensions continued for several nights. Village residents then organized into groups and concentrated efforts to promote rights for LGBTQ+. This led to the famous Gay Liberation Front which eventually became what we know as the Pride Parade - celebrated each June to remember The Stonewall Riots.
This year, being the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, it is important that everyone knows this story. When our society debates equal right for LGBTQ people - such as marriage or adoption - queer youth experience more violence in school. Currently, acts of violence among those who identify as LGBT are double that than any other minority according to the FBI - the figure is even higher for those who identify as transgender and the greatest among those who are non-caucasian identifying as transgender. So this year, we are remembering The Stonewall Riots so we don’t forget how far we have come and far we need to go. We are remembering the two heroines, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera along with every other queer who represented the most marginalized in the community: drag queens, transgender people, fem boys, butch lesbians, sex workers, and homeless youth.
Reinacting Stonewall - Photo project by Chris Schanz
To commemorate this important event, Cascadians from around Seattle were excited to take part in a photo series by famous photographer Chris Schanz which are on display at Capitol Hill Frame Central and elsewhere. Sales of the shoot will proceed different PRIDE organizations. He shot several iconic local Seattle scenes over a weekend.
From his site - “Who could have imagined 50 years ago what LGBTQ culture would look like in the future? Those that fought for our rights to exist freely endured years of oppression, harassment, bigotry and assaults, having to live in fear for their lives on a daily basis. Smaller protests throughout the 1960’s led the way for visibility, but on June 28th, 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn fought back.”
For the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we would like to join together in a photo essay by photographer Chris Schanz to show how diverse we have become, how powerful we are, and that we can still stand unified in the face of adversity to claim our space in the world. Many who grew up knowing these freedoms may not realize the impact of those actions 50 years ago.