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Pride History: the Stonewall Era

By VerityCU June 07, 2021 Community

With the beginning of Pride Month, it is a good opportunity to flip back a little bit and examine the beginnings of Pride and how and why it came to be. While Pride often focuses on progression and looking to a more inclusive future, we cannot forget the battles and victories the LGBTQIA+ community has accomplished in just a few short decades.

Before there were public displays of support for this community, we must recognize a time shortly after World War II where the treatment of members of the LGBTQIA+ community was much darker, with government lists of known homosexuals, who they claimed were more susceptible to Communist blackmail and plots; wearing clothing of other genders could be cause for arrest; bars, restaurants, and other locations that served or catered to this community were shut down and often publicly shamed. For a time, homosexuality was even considered a mental disorder, with multiple abusive and painful procedures used under the guise of therapy.

Things came to a head during the Stonewall Era, which is also referred to as the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar in New York operating during the 1960s, and the only gay bar that allowed men to come and dance. Due to the criminalization of homosexuality, many gay bars at the time operated without a legal liquor license and quickly became targets of frequent and repeated police raids of the bars.

A raid occurred when police came to act on “visual evidence” of crimes; they turned on all the lights and request identification. If a person did not have identification, they were arrested. Patrons presenting as women would be taken aside by female officers to verify if they were dressed by their sex assigned at birth, or if they were dressed with enough items of clothing to be in public. Fail to pass either of these, or a handful of other crimes, and the individual could be arrested.

On June 28, 1969, four undercover police officers entered Stonewall to collect evidence and called for backup. As arrests were being made and the bar was being shut down, a crowd gathered outside to witness the brutality. As the police became more violent, so did the crowd. They felt it was time to demand the rights and protections that should belong to them. This divide resulted in six days of escalated conflict between police and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and their allies.

It is also significant to note that the leaders of this movement, and who were among the first to push back against the brutality were both trans women and women of color. The Stonewall Inn hosted prominent members from the drag and trans communities, with visitors from all over the East Coast traveling through. Stormé DeLarverie, a Black lesbian and the Inn’s only drag king, was shoved and physically assaulted during the raid, so she punched the officer back. When four more officers began beating her, specifically in the head, the riots began. Figures like Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman and activist, or Sylvia Rivera, a Latina trans woman, among several others were instrumental not only in the start of the riot during the raiding of Stonewall, but also in the creation and inspiration of many queer advocate groups during the following decades, ranging in support of people living with HIV/AIDS, homelessness, poverty and mental health.

The result of the Stonewall riots not only inspired several activist groups to form nationwide and globally, it also inspired what we know as Pride today. On June 28th 1970, the Christopher Street Liberation Day demonstration in New York marked the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, with simultaneous demonstrations in Los Angeles and Chicago. It would not be until 1980 that activists are able to gain a win with New York v. Onofre, which legalized same-sex relationships. The LGBTQIA+ community continues to fight for their rights, with same sex marriage being legalized only as recently as 2015 in the United States

As the years have gone on, more major cities and communities nationwide have recognized the month of June as a time to highlight the history of queer America, and where queer America heads in the future. While the foundation was built on overcoming rejection, brutality, and fear, what we build together in the future will come with more inclusivity and more love.

Happy Pride!

Contributed by Blaise Netzer, senior consumer lending processor for Verity Credit Union