How the Stonewall Riots Worked

Controversy Over Stonewall's Legacy

The Stonewall Inn was declared a national monument in 2016. Spencer Platt/Getty Images The Stonewall Inn was declared a national monument in 2016. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The Stonewall Inn was declared a national monument in 2016. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

There is a lot of disagreement over the proceedings of the Stonewall riots. Some of the debate and conflicting claims are focused on who was involved, including the identity of the lesbian who fought the cops, or the person who threw the first brick that landed on a cop car and inflamed the crowd.

More important are disagreements over what groups were involved. The people involved in the riots were LGBTQ in every sense: gay men, lesbians, transgender women, effeminate men, etc. Black, Hispanic and white people took part in the riots, forming a diverse crowd. By many accounts, the people who suffered from police harassment the most (lesbians, transgender women and cross-dressing men, along with LGBTQ street kids) were at the forefront of the riots. These groups often feel that the Stonewall story has been falsely depicted as an event focused on masculine, gay white men. "Similar to Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus, there was a much broader social movement context in which the Stonewall riots took place. That broader movement context often gets erased with an overly simplistic retelling of individual or even collective acts of resistance," says Freeman.

Since 1969, several documentaries and two fictionalized feature films — both called "Stonewall," from 1995 and 2015 — have been made about the Stonewall riots. Neither critics nor moviegoers liked either of the movies very much, with most complaints centering on lack of historical accuracy and failure to show the importance of transgender people and people of color.

The Stonewall Inn is still a privately owned bar. In 2016, the Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park and some nearby streets were designated a National Monument by President Barack Obama — the first dedicated to gay rights. The annual New York City Pride March still ends on Christopher Street every year on the anniversary of the riots.

Author's Note: How the Stonewall Riots Worked

I didn't know the details of the Stonewall riots when I started researching this, so it was fascinating to discover not only what a compelling story it is, but also how complex both the riots and their long-term outcome really are. My favorite part of studying history is untangling the various conditions and factors that lead to major events, and the riots are a perfect example. It's also nice to write about something that ultimately feels like a positive story — no one was killed in the riots, and they led (eventually, gradually, requiring a lot of work by a lot of people) to more rights in the U.S. for LGBTQ people.


More Great Links


  • Armstrong, Elizabeth A. and Crage, Suzanna M. "Movements and Memory: The Making of the Stonewall Myth." American Sociological Review. October 2006. (April 19, 2017)
  • Bausum, Ann. "Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights." Viking. 2015. (May 2, 2017)
  • Bellis, Rich. "Here's Everywhere In America You Can Still Get Fired For Being Gay Or Trans." March 3, 2016. (May 2)
  • Carter, David. "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution." St. Martin's Griffin. 2004. (May 2, 2017)
  • Drescher, Jack. "Out of DSM: Depathologizing Homosexuality." Behavioral Science. 2015. (May 2, 2017)
  • Duberman, Martin and Andrew Kopkind. "The Night They Raided Stonewall." Grand Street. 1993.
  • Freeman, Susan K., Chair, Dept. of Gender and Women's Studies, Western Michigan University Personal correspondence. April 24, 2017.
  • Holden, Stephen. "June 28, 1969: Turning Point in Gay Rights History." The New York Times. June 16, 2010. (May 2, 2017)
  • Holden, Stephen. "Review: 'Stonewall' Doesn't Distinguish Between Facts and Fiction." The New York Times. Sept. 24, 2015. (May 2, 2017)
  • Human Rights Campaign. "LGBT History Month: The 1950s anf the Roots of LGBT Politics." Oct. 10, 2014. (April 16, 2017)
  • Kite, Mary E. and Kinsey Blue Bryant-Lees. "Historical and Contemporary Attitudes Toward Homosexuality." Society for the Teaching of Psychology. 2016. (May 2, 2017)
  • Landmarks Preservation Commission. "Stonewall Inn." June 23, 2015. (April 21, 2017)
  • Lauerman, Kerry. "Was Stonewall sparked by Judy Garland's death? Inside the riots' contested history." The Washington Post. June 24, 2016. (April 18, 2017)
  • Marche, Guillaume. "Political memoirs and intimate confessions: Analysing four US gay liberation/gay rights militants' memoirs." Sexualities. 2017. (May 2, 2017)
  • Poindexter, Cynthia Cannon. "Sociopolitical Antecedents to Stonewall: Analysis of the Origins of the Gay Rights Movement in the United States." Social Work. November 1997. (May 2, 2017)
  • NYC Pride. "FAQ." (April 19, 2017)
  • Pasulka, Nicole. "Ladies in the Streets: Before Stonewall, Transgender Uprising Changed Lives." NPR. May 5, 2015. (April 17, 2017)
  • Rosenberg, Eli. "Stonewall Inn Named National Monument, a First for the Gay Rights Movement." The New York Times. June 24, 2016. (May 2, 2017)
  • The Leadership Conference. "Stonewall Riots: The Beginning of the LGBT Movement." June 22, 2009. (May 2, 2017)
  • The New York Times. "Remember Stonewall! But How?; Gay Groups Clash Over Commemoration of a Riot in 1969." May 6, 1994. (May 2, 2017)