Almost fifty years ago, on a hot summer night in June 1969, the patrons of a mafia-run bar in NYC’s Greenwich Village found themselves subject to yet another police raid and the humiliating rough treatment that came along with it.
However, on this night the patrons fought back. The combatants lived in the margin of the margins: queens, dykes, fags, trans, hustlers, homeless youth, many were people of color. The neighborhood of Greenwich Village turned out into the streets to join the melee. The riots lasted three days before temperatures cooled.
Two undercover policewomen and two undercover policemen had entered the bar earlier that evening to gather visual evidence, as the Public Morals Squad waited outside for the signal. Once inside, they called for backup from the Sixth Precinct using the bar’s pay telephone. The music was turned off and the main lights were turned on. Approximately 205 people were in the bar that night. Patrons who had never experienced a police raid were confused. A few who realized what was happening began to run for doors and windows in the bathrooms, but police barred the doors.
The Stonewall Riots added a lavender color to the counter-culture rebellions of the late 60s and inspired a feeling of liberation for LGBTQ+ people.
Within a year, gay groups organized across the country and the world. The first gay liberation march in NYC commemorated the 1-year anniversary of the rebellion that launched a movement. A movement that would change the world.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1994, I visited New York for a pilgrimage to the Stonewall Inn during the 25th anniversary commemoration of the riots. The celebration also coincided with Gay Games IV held in NYC.
I was 26. And I had a camera.
The Stonewall 25 anniversary pride march included a parade of nations to honor the Gay Games IV participants. About 15,000 people participated in either the sporting competitions (Greg Louganis was one of the competitors) or the cultural events.
The Gay Games incorporates similar rituals and symbols used in the modern Olympics (e.g., opening/closing ceremonies). But anyone can compete – there are no minimum qualifications or restrictions. Many of the sporting events are internationally recognized so new world records get recognized in the books.
The core principles of the Games are Participation, Inclusion, and Personal Best.
After the march, our group headed to Central Park for a bit. Then rode down to the West Village (we were staying close by, in Chelsea). In order to complete our pilgrimage to have a cocktail inside the Stonewall Inn, we pushed and squeezed through a festive crowd. For about 30 minutes.
When I got home to Tallahassee, I came out at work. This meant I was on the front lines in every area of my life – being a stand for my right to exist.
I didn’t feel capable of influencing a hostile government as an individual. But I could influence the one-on-one interactions of my daily life. Everyone who knew me could say they knew at least one gay person.
This was a lesson from the social upheavals of the 1960s: the personal is political.