40 years ago, bigotry hit a stone wall



Tomorrow, June 27, marks the 40th anniversary of the event that triggered the gay rights movement in America: the Stonewall Riots. On June 27, 1969, the New York City Police Department’s Public Morals Squad (sounds like something from the novel 1984, doesn’t it?) raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Raids were a fairly common occurrence, even though the police received payoffs from the bar’s owners. There was a routine: the cops would raid the place, put bar employees in the paddywagon, go back in to arrest the people who had offended the police’s sensitive moral standards, and the other patrons would scurry away. That night, the bar patrons decided they’d had enough of this kind of treatment and fought back, throwing anything they could get their hands on at the cops, who retreated into the paddywagon for their own protection. The riot didn’t automatically start a movement, of course, but it was the spark that lit the long fuse of frustration felt by gays and lesbians everywhere who, in those days, were disparaged and degraded daily by society’s prejudices. The gay rights movement made tremendous strides and helped change attitudes; gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people are still fighting for the right to be treated as if they’re human beings. As fellow journalist Frye Gaillard once put it, anti-gay sentiment is “the cutting edge of bigotry today.” It ‘s high time — hell, it’s past high time — for members of the LGBT community to be allowed to fully be themselves. Such statements were few and far between 40 years ago; then the Stonewall Riots came.


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