Monday, January 3, 2011

The 60s: The Stonewall Riots

The American 60s and 70s is noted as the period in which views on homosexuality began to change dramatically. Fueled by the implications of such major events as the Stonewall Riots (1969) and the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (1973), the country as a whole began to address homosexuality as a serious topic.

The Stonewall Riots
Many people attribute the beginning of the gay civil rights movement with that of the Stonewall riots on June 27th and 28th of 1969.  In New York City riots erupted in response to police harassment of customers of a local gay bar called the Stonewall Inn.
The Stonewall Inn's clientele consisted of  mostly men, drag queens, and the occasional lesbian. In order to get past the need for a liquor license the bar listed itself as a "bottle club." This would mean the inn was not meant to sell alcohol, however, Mafia owners paid $2,000 weekly to bribe the police to keep the bar open. Even so, the bar was raided monthly and the $2,000 in bribes only ensured a tip that the police were coming.
These tips, though short in advance, gave patrons the chance to stop dancing/touching and the bartenders the chance to jump the bar and pretend they were a customer, thus decreasing their chance of being arrested.

On June 27th 1969 the assumed tip never came. Eight detectives raided the bar, and while few customers were arrested onlookers revolted angered by the continuous police harassment. The police retreated into the bar not having expected homosexuals to fight back. Taking a hostage, the police barricaded themselves in the bar while Stonewall supporters and patrons rioted outside. Both queer and police support came, and for the ensuing days police harassment of 'feminine boys' and gay protest reached an all time high. 

By the following day the number of people had reached the thousands. Chaos ensued as police began to randomly beat civilians and rioters hurled bottles and garbage at the police. Passing cars were terrorized and rocked back and forth-- the calamity lasted until 4 AM of the next morning. 

The Aftermath
In the LGBTQ community there were mixed reactions of the Stonewall Riots. Wealthier gays who would spend their time on the popular gay destination Fire Island were happy to see the bar go, noting it as tacky and bad for the image of the gay community. Activist and author Randy Wicker voiced these concerns: "Screaming queens forming chorus lines and kicking went against everything I wanted people to think about homosexuals...that we were a bunch of drag queens in the Village acting disorderly and tacky and cheap."

Despite such sentiments of wealthier homophiles, the Stonewall Rebellion became a force and symbol of the gay rights movement that would propel the need for equality forward. Poet and activist Allen Ginsberg expressed this in his description of the revolting Stonewall customers: "beautiful-- they've lost that wonded look that fags all had ten years ago."

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