New York City will this weekend mark the 50th anniversary of the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 when hundreds of thousands descend on the Big Apple to also mark the World Pride event, five decades after what is broadly viewed as the start of the modern gay rights movement.
The Stonewall riots were a series of demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against an excessive and violent police raid in the early morning hours of June 28th 1969.
The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighbourhood residents as police dragged people out of the bar 50 years ago leading to almost a week of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the venue in Greenwich Village, Manhattan.
“Standing across the street that night, that little 18-year-old boy who is me, I never thought that I’d be here 50 years later talking about it. We didn’t know it was history. We just thought, we knew it had changed. When I stood here in the midst of it all, I remember saying to myself, in just an instance, ‘OK, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.’ I mean it’s the counterculture of the 1960s. Black people were fighting for their rights, Latinos were fighting for their rights, women are fighting for their rights. What about us? What about me?,” says Mark Segal, Stonewall uprising veteran.
The bar still stands today as a symbol of resistance and a popular destination for visitors to the city while the current owners feel they are the keepers of a history they insist must be told accurately.
“Part of owning The Stonewall Inn is a global international recognized sign of freedom for LGBTQ people. And we have a responsibility to make sure what happened here in 1969, everyone’s educated about it. And we keep the bar at the forefront. We make sure it’s a safe queer space, but we keep it at the forefront of that struggle. And that’s where the responsibility comes in. It’s not even just about the history, but it’s about using it as a vehicle for change currently as well,” says Stacy Lentz, co-owner of the Stonewall Inn.
Time claiming many of those street fighters but whose bold response to police over-reach in 1969 slowly opened doors for those who came after them.
An event recognized as the catalyst for the gay rights movement in this country and in other places around the world as Lentz explains.
“Today what it stands for our for our community, it really represents the ideal of fighting back against LGBTQ oppression. It really represents the idea of freedom for people all over the globe. Stonewall is not just a bar. It really is a symbol in the name. And it’s almost like a brand as well. That name is assimilated with our freedom. And it’s the birthplace of gay rights. So to keep it at that forefront and to use that, and to use that legacy across the country in places where equality has been slow to arrive, as well as globally – Uganda, Ukraine, places, the 70 countries where you can still be criminalized for LGBTQ. That’s what we have to do with Stonewall. We have to keep it at the forefront, using its legacy, its name and its ability to raise awareness,” says Lentz.
Earlier this month, the Commissioner of the New York Police Department issued an apology over the actions taken by officers during that historic clash outside Stonewall after his department for years refused to concede that the raid itself was never justified. Commissioner James O’Neil said the actions taken by the police that day were wrong.
This as hundreds of thousands descend on the city for the World Pride March this Sunday with complimentary events all over adding that extra bit of colour to the Big Apple this weekend.