Tuesday, June 11, 2019
Lost in some of the celebrations and certainly in the awareness of the non-LGBTQ community is the context of the revolt. One survivor estimates that 70% of the Stonewall participants were people of color or Latinx. One observer stated that "You have people such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia (Rivera) who were very critical in that movement that started this off. They stood up for it. So many times we don’t recognize those particular leaders. They were African-American and other people of color who were really strong leaders." While other protests had occurred, it was Stonewall that set off what was then known as the "Gay Liberation" movement. The time was ripe. A movement to advance equality of treatment for the LGBTQ community was due in an era that had seen the civil rights movement make strong inroads and the "Women's Liberation" movement was forming. As with other social movements, gay communities of color soon felt excluded from the Pride movement and formed communities of their own.
The laws in place in 1968 NYC that led to arrests of gay and trans people were specifically designed to target sexual minorities. One law required that each patron wear three pieces of clothing identified with their birth gender if they were to avoid arrest. Other laws, while seemingly neutral, were enforced against owners of gay bars, such as a law that prohibited serving alcohol where there was "disorderly conduct." Gay bars were de facto considered disorderly.
The first night of the Stonewall revolt, police began harassing, including pushing, the patrons. This was not typical police conduct who were being paid by the bar owner to look the other way. But this night was different in that the patrons did not remain passive. Like that one last act of aggression that pushes someone to react, enough was enough and patrons began fighting back. The LGBTQ community at the time of Stonewall, was looking for equality of treatment. They were far from making marriage equality a primary focus. Indeed, their focus was human rights-centered, promoting individual dignity. Some believe that the later focus on marriage equality subsumed the original broader and more critical human rights concerns although dignity was a major theme in Justice Kennedy's opinion in Obergfell.
No matter what the criticism of post-1969 developments, there is no question that Stonewall ignited public and individual pride, even though at the time, those involved could not appreciate the long-term impact of their acts