Ever since Team America came out, there has been a particular song from that movie, a song about America, that I often find myself singing. For those of you who have seen that film, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Usually, I sing it in jest, like when Congress couldn’t agree on a budget and shut the government down. Or when Donald Trump announced his bid for presidency, again. But after this week, after what happened in the Supreme Court, I will now say it with pride: “America, Fuck Yeah!” I honestly couldn’t believe that it actually happened; America is now the twenty-first country that has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. And it’s about freaking time.
After this announcement, lots of people have been bringing up the Stonewall Inn Riots. They have been saying that this Riot marks the official beginning of the Modern Gay Rights Movement. A very good friend of mine last night was actually down at the Stonewall Inn and shot of a video of thousands of people celebrating in the streets. But what was the Stonewall Inn Riot? Well, lets make a blog!
So, New York City has a gay community with a long history. Back in the 1890’s, there were many saloons and dance halls that catered almost exclusively to gay men, almost all of them on the Bowery. Don’t think for a second that everybody welcomed these establishments; they were constantly under criticism from religious leaders and being raided by the police. New York had strict sodomy laws that made being an open homosexual illegal. But that didn’t stop them, and more and more gay businesses started to sprout up all over the city. They were all technically illegal underground bars, but even from the early days they were a lot of fun.
It was during prohibition that the gay community became popular in the city. When the 18th Amendment was ratified and liquor became an illegal substance, all of the legitimate bars and dance halls were driven out of business. However, the underground gay clubs were still up and running. It became known that all the gay bars threw the best parties, so the straight people started wanting to hang out with them. This started what became known then as the “Pansy Craze” of the 1920’s. Soon, it became a tourist attraction in NYC, and this lead to a gay prominence in entertainment and media. People were revolting against the moral order imposed by prohibition, and soon drag shows were a very popular form of entertainment in NYC. In Harlem, there was an annual gathering at Hamilton Lodge, which was the largest gathering of gay men and women in America.
But the good times didn’t last for long. In 1933, prohibition was finally repealed and people could sell liquor again! Yay! But, the government started to strictly regulate all the booze sales, and the City of New York cracked down on all the underground gay clubs. The Government wanted bars and restaurants that sold booze to be “orderly”, and in order to make them “orderly”, NYC said bars were not allowed to serve nor hire Homosexuals. The police started a series of crackdowns, and many people were arrested for being gay. It became illegal for men to dance with other men, women had to wear at least three pieces of “feminine clothing,” anyone caught in drag was immediately arrested, and often bar owners and their employees were arrested for selling to homosexuals. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia issued an order saying that anyone convicted of “sex crimes involving perversion” (AKA being gay) were to be held under medical observation indefinitely. The state then started to refer to gay people as “Sex Psychopaths”, and there was even an instance of a man being lobotomized because of his sexual orientation. He was given only local anesthesia and ended up going insane because of the operation. He spent the rest of his life in an institution.
Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, things got worse and worse. The police were encouraged by the City to make life miserable for the gay community, and more men and women were being arrested for just living their lives. It all came to a head at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street. At 1:20am on June 28th, 1969 eight cops arrived at the Stonewall Inn, which had about 200 people inside it, and the police tried to arrest every person in the bar. They lined up the patrons on the sidewalk, and made them wait for the patrol wagons to arrive. But things went south pretty fast for the cops. A huge crowd was gathering around the Stonewall Inn, and by the time the first patrol car arrived, there were about 2,000 angry spectators. When a woman complained that her handcuffs were too tight, a cop hit her on the head with his billy club, and the crowd lost it. People started to throw pennies, bottles, bricks and whatever they could find at the police. A group even tried to push over the patrol wagon.
The cops fled to the inside of the Stonewall Inn and barricaded the door to protect themselves. The angry crowd outside started to throw rocks, bricks and trashcans at the windows to get to the men inside. At one point, someone uprooted a parking meter and tried to use it as a battering ram on the door. The cops had to be rescued by the tactical police force, who showed up just in time. By 4:00am, it was all over. Thirteen people were arrested, four cops were injured, and the Stonewall Inn was totally wrecked. Almost everything on the inside was destroyed, but for the first time, this community told the City that they had had enough.
The next year, a march was organized to commemorate the riots. From there, many pride marches were organized and the modern Gay Rights Movement had begun. According to the Stonewall Inn website, “To this day, the LGBT community around the globe commemorates that historic time here at The Stonewall Inn by holding Pride Parades. Those celebrations of Gay pride are to recognize how far we have come, to remember those less fortunate who came before us and to remind those who may have grown complacent, how far we still must go to achieve true equality.”
Today I am proud to be an American. Here we are almost 49 years later to the date, and look how far we have come. There is still more work to be done, but I am so happy that we are finally making strides in the right direction. So, fuck yeah, America!