I’m typing this 40 years almost to the minute since the New York City police backed a paddy wagon up to the Stonewall Inn in preparation for a raid of the gay bar. While the riots that started early that Saturday morning certainly weren’t the first instance of an organized LGBT movement in America, they were the spark that set off a new era of unrestrained advocacy that previous generations had only dreamed possible.
Democracy Now has a good retrospective of the Stonewall Riots, including analysis of what happened immediately before June 28, 1969, and what made this raid different from all the others and made them find their voices that morning. Included is audio from the 1989 documentary Stonewall Remembered. To hear that entire documentary uncut, go here.
(For information about the 50 years of LGBT culture and activism before 1969, please see the post LGBT History: Before Stonewall.)
DAVE ISAY: The local precinct had just received a new commanding officer, who kicked off his tenure by initiating a series of raids on gay bars. The Stonewall was an inviting target. Operated by the Gambino crime family without a liquor license, the dance bar drew a crowd of drag queens, hustlers and minors. A number of the barâ€™s patrons had spent the early part of the day outside the Frank Campbell Funeral Home, where Judy Garlandâ€™s funeral was held. She had died the Sunday before. It was almost precisely at midnight that the morals squad pulled up to the Stonewall Inn, led by Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine.
SYLVIA RIVERA: At that time, we lived at the Arista Hotel. We used to sit around, just try to figure out when this harassment would come to an end. And we would always dream that one day it would come to an end. And we prayed and we looked for it. We wanted to be human beings.
MAMA JEAN: I remember one cop coming at me, hitting me with the nightstick on the back of my legs. I broke loose, and I went after him. I grabbed his nightstick. My girlfriend went behind him. She was a strong son of a gun. I wanted him to feel the same pain I felt. And I kept on saying to him, â€œHow do you like the pain? Do you like it? Do you like it?â€ And I kept on hitting him and hitting him. I was angry. I wanted to kill him. At that particular minute, I wanted to kill him.
SYLVIA RIVERA: I wanted to do every destructive thing that I could think of at that time to hurt anyone that had hurt us through the years.