Remembering Stonewall

Across the street from the Stonewall Inn in Christopher Park, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City, stands sculptures of two men, one with his hand on the other’s shoulder; next to them, on a bench, are figures of two women, one having her hand on the other’s thigh.  Today these simple gestures strike many as innocent, but there was a time…

Stonewall Memorial

The Gay Liberation monument, Christopher Park, New York City

“… to be loving and caring, and show the affection that is the hallmark of gay people … and it had to have equal representation of men and women.”
— Requirements made by Peter Putnam (1927–1987), who commissioned the monument

Stonewall-in remembrance

In the summer of 1969, the Stonewall Inn was a bar owned by the Mafia; its patrons were a colorful assortment of gay men, lesbian women, and transgender folk whom society had written-off as “misfits” and “degenerates,” all grateful they had found a place to be themselves.  Police raids on such bars were common in the 60's, but in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 the cops were unprepared for the misfits and degenerates to fight back, to say no to being harassed, beaten with billy clubs, and arrested, to say enough is enough.  The situation quickly spiraled out of control — the crowd began to riot as the oppressed marched out of the shadows of obscurity in a dark bar and laid claim to America’s promise of liberty and justice… for all.  One night of protest turned into two, and then three as the police became surrogates for every bully who had ever said an unkind word or raised a hand against a homosexual and the gays and lesbians of Greenwich Village avenged decades, even centuries, of fear and oppression.

Within weeks of Stonewall, Greenwich Village residents began organizing into groups focused on turning violent protest into efforts aimed at establishing safe places for gays and lesbians to be themselves without the constant fear of being brutalized or arrested (or both).  The Stonewall Riots are widely considered to be the single most important event in the gay community and the beginning of the modern struggle for LGBTQ rights in the United States.

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