The 60’s and Stonewall – The-times-they-are-a-changin’

After the Stonewall riots, gays actively fought and protested for their rights.

HomoCulture LGBT History Silvia Hildebrandt

This article was published on October 16th, 2018

After the summer of love, 1967 established a new scene for music, family and sex life, the day of June 28, 1969 marked a new turning point in the social history of homosexuality.

Czechoslovakia and Hungary decriminalized homosexuality in 1961, Israel followed in 1963. Paragraph 175 is eased, first in East Germany in 1968, one year later on the West side.

What seemed like a breakthrough in oppressed LGBT culture, was in fact only a liberation in formality and laws. Gays continued to face intolerance in everyday life.

New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr.

In the early 1960’s New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. Held a campaign to rid his city of gay bars. Undercover police officers usually employed the method of entrapment to find homosexual men and get the information they sought. As in previous decades before, the years before the (in)famous Stonewall raids and riots, homosexuals were living under the constant fear of being arrested for drinking in a gay bar.

Stonewall raids and riots

But in 1966, gay rights activist’s Harry Hay’s Mattachine Society could convinced the newly elected Mayor John Lindsay to end Wagner’s procedure of entrapment. Still, homosexuals faced discrimination, because the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) were allowed to revoke alcohol licenses if they thought businesses were disorderly. The Mattachine Society held sip-ins to illustrate what difficulties gays had to face in their social life. After all, the original purpose of the magazine The Advocate– est. 1967 – was to inform homosexuals about raids in gay bars in Los Angeles.

Harry Hay

In New York City, the most famous raid took place in a little gay bar in Greenwich Village.

The Stonewall Inn had been a somehow shadowy establishment indeed, where mostly underground people met. It was no fancy gay bar; it had connections to the mafia, and no license for serving alcohol. It was mostly frequented by people who were kicked out from other more decent places: homeless youths, transgender people, butchlesbians, male prostitutes, etc. Raids on gay bars were still common in the 1960’s. Nevertheless, the relatively small meeting point at Christopher Street/7th Ave in Greenwich Village became known as a symbol for a new era of LGBT activism.

The time seemed ripe. The whole decade had had enough violence already; the Hippie era with its civil rights movements, new youth culture, and the “Make love not War” attitude of a young generation fed up with the after-war traumas and politics, needed a change, not only in politics, but also in society.

Thus, the Stonewall Inn raids in the early morning hours of June 28, were the motivation to finally fight back: “We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration… Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us.” (Carter, David, 2004. Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. St. Martin’s Press. P. 160).

The Stonewall Inn

For the four police officers involved in the Stonewall Inn riots, the raid was far from the usual routine they’d been accustomed to: the bar owner hadn’t received the standard notification, as was the proper procedure. So the mood was already heated. The men in line who were asked for their identification, simply refused to obey the police. As the officers started to arrest people, more and more bystanders gathered together. A protest atmosphere was in the air as people began shouting slogans such as “Gay Power!” The crowd remained in a neutral mood until a fight between the police and an arrested woman in handcuffs broke out. For another couple of days, violence was the rule not the exception, on both sides.

Poet Allen Ginsberg, who lived in Greenwich Village at that time, cheered with joy at the liberation of oppressed homosexuals: “You know, the guys there were so beautiful—they’ve lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago.”

Allen Ginsberg

But many people were ashamed by the violent and hysterical way of the Stonewall clients – mostly in drag – fighting against the police.

Nevertheless, one year after the outbreak of the Stonewall riots, the first Gay Pride was held in New York City, starting at Christopher Street, the place of the changing of the tide.

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