Once upon a time, police raids were generally considered the norm for gay bars in this country. Sometimes the police recorded the names of people at the bar during the raid and published them in newspapers. If you were holding hands with a member of the same sex, kissing someone of the same sex, wearing clothes of the opposite gender, or even just being in a gay bar, you could be arrested.
On Friday June 27th, 1969, things began to change. Judy Garland's funeral was held, with some 22,000 in attendance. Some people say more than half of the mourners were gay men. Emotions were running in all directions for many of the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village at 53 Christopher Street in Manhattan.
Shortly after 1 a.m. that morning, eight officers entered the Stonewall Inn with the intent to arrest '... those patrons without ID's, dressed in clothes of the opposite sex, and some or all of the employees...'
The exact details about what happened next vary wildly, but the crowd, obviously upset at the thought of yet another raid, quickly overtook the eight officers and a riot began. It would swell to nearly 2,000 people battling with over 400 police officers. A riot-control squad was brought in, but was not able to contain the crowd. Eventually it ended with many arrests and injuries.
The next evening, the crowds returned and more of the same thing happened. People were lashing out against negative attitudes toward gay people by resisting arrest and fighting the police. The following Wednesday, another crowd appeared at the Stonewall Inn, and yet another riot broke out.
The message was clear. Gay people were tired of being discriminated against. Something had to be done. During the month after the riots, the Gay Liberation Front was formed in New York. Soon, other cities and countries around the world began to create their own versions of the GLF.
One year later, at the end of June, the GLF organized a march from Greenwich Village to Central Park to commemorate the riots. That is why today, we celebrate Pride month in June, with a march held the last Sunday of the month.
Remember Stonewall when you are out on Sunday the 25th. It's not only a parade we attend each year. Strip away the glitz, scrub off the corporate sponsors, and what you have left is a march. A demonstration. By participating, we are showing the world who we are, what we are, and announcing that we are tired of being discriminated against.
There are years of work ahead of us before we can claim a level playing field. But all of us, each in our own way, can make a difference. You don't need to be as extreme as the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, but you do need to get out and do something. Play your part. Educate yourself. Live well, and take pride in everything you do.
Proudly with you in 4/4,