How the Stonewall Riots Worked


The Aftermath of the Riots
People march to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, whose legacy is enduring. Barbara Alper/Archive Photos/Getty Images
People march to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, whose legacy is enduring. Barbara Alper/Archive Photos/Getty Images

If nothing else had happened after that riot, it may have been an isolated incident with minor importance in LGBTQ history. But on Saturday night, news of the riots drew hundreds or possibly thousands of people to Christopher Street. The Stonewall Inn reopened and served as a central point and signboard. The crowd was made up predominantly of LGBTQ people, but it also became something of a counterculture event, drawing hippies, civil rights protesters and even tourists.

While the crowd on the second night threw bottles and garbage at the police and also engaged in street chases with the TPF, it was much more political. People gave speeches; chants of "gay power" were prominent; and groups handed out pamphlets and worked to organize the crowd's anger into a more cohesive movement. Gay rights in general were a matter of primary concern, but police corruption and Mafia involvement in gay bars were also major issues for the protesters.

By Sunday night, the crowds were smaller. The police outnumbered the protesters, who mainly gathered at a nearby park, holding hands, kissing each other and dancing. The riots lasted six nights.

But the repercussions of the Stonewall riots were not confined to one week in 1969. A few months later, a commemorative march took place in New York, and similar marches were held in cities across the U.S. On the first anniversary of the riots, thousands of people marched from Christopher Park to Central Park. It was the first LGBTQ pride parade in the U.S., creating a precedent for annual celebrations around the world. And following the riots, groups like the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance organized, held meetings and made a prolonged and focused push for gay rights in a far more visible and vocal way than the gay rights groups of the pre-Stonewall era. (Indeed, the Mattachine Society called for an end to protests and a return to peace and quiet the weekend of the riots.)

Work for the civil rights of an oppressed group is always an ongoing process, and the Stonewall riots were just one part of the long and difficult process of expanding the rights of LGBTQ people in the U.S. But the riots are considered a pivotal and instrumental event in that process. Next, we'll explore the legend and legacy of the Stonewall riots.

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