LGBT History Month

Out Of The Past: 9 Facts About The Stonewall Riots

October is Gay History Month. All throughout the month we’ll revisit stories that shed light on legendary and lesser-known moments in LGBT history.


Stonewall Riots

While the struggle for LGBT equality is more than a century old, many mark the 1969 Stonewall riots as the official “shot heard round the world” that sparked the beginning of what we know as the modern gay-rights movement. Even today, the last Sunday in June is marked by gay Pride around the world.

Check out these facts on the origins of Pride:

1. The Stonewall riots started at 1:20am on Saturday, June 28,1969 at The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City. Another incident took place later that night.

2. The first gay Pride march didn’t take place until June 28, 1970. There were no floats—it was more of a politically-driven demonstration to commemorate the Stonewall Riots than the non-stop party it is today.

3. A unknown lesbian is responsible for starting the first riot. When a cop hit her in the head with a billy club and cuffed her, she turned to the crowd and screamed, “Why don’t you do something?!?” After an officer threw her into the back of a paddy wagon, “the scene became explosive”.


Early Pride Marchers


4. Kick lines and a re-write to the Howdy Doody theme song were part of the crowd’s reaction to the police attempting to control rioters.

5. The Stonewall Inn was owned and operated by the Mafia. There was a peephole in the door and if the bouncer didn’t recognize you or didn’t think you were gay, you weren’t getting in.

6. Stonewall had no running water behind the bar (plastic cups were not all the rage in the ’60s) and overflowing toilets were common.

7. At the time of the riots, cross-dressing was illegal. You could be arrested for not wearing a certain number of gender-appropriate garments. The night of the riot, female police officers took patrons dressed as women into the bathroom to confirm their sex.

8. Believe it or not, The Village Voice, today a gay-equality champion run by a lot of gays, took an anti-gay stance in covering the riots. Angry protesters threatened to burn their headquarters down.

9. The Voice provided favorable coverage of the Pride march the following year. In fact, the media as a whole began its painful, gradual ascent to a fair and balanced approach to LGBT issues.

For more information on the Stonewall Riots, check out David Carter’s Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution.

D. Kareem is a South Carolina native living in NYC. He works in entertainment and social media and is the author of the nightlife/travel blog

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  • SteveC

    Sing it sister!

  • Navi

    Does anyone know when the pride parade is in NYC?

  • Mariel


    It’s June 26th…parade starts @ 12p.

  • TheRealAdam

    Some points the article obviously does not mention due to bias:

    The first gay pride was technically in L.A., not NYC. The first Stonewall-esque riots were actually in L.A., not NYC. The first gay news publications were actually in L.A., not NYC. The first gay rights groups were actually in L.A., not NYC.

  • TMikel

    For those of us alive, gay, and out in 1969, this is our history. I was 19 at the time and still remember what life was like before Stonewall and just after. There was such a feeling of liberation and growing pride. It was quite a change from my fist gay party when I jumped out the bathroom window as police were breaking down the front door. That first anniversary, I actually marched in the Chicago parade and it was a glorious experience. Since then I have known pride in many cities – San Francisco and NYC among them. We have come a long way since those first early days.


    The Real Adam is correct. While gay history in both cities goes back 100+ years, gay activism in Los Angeles goes back to the 1940s and 1950s.

    Read your history, boys and girls! Our forefathers (and mothers) did amazing things for us to enjoy the rights we have today…and we should provide the same legacy to generations to come!

  • markuss17

    Thanks Kareem…now I know much better what happened!

  • ZT

    That’s true, TheRealAdam. The more you read of gay-equality-history the more you’ll see a lot of significant moments in the early 20th century, but the “modern” gay rights movements are really Los Angeles based. The Stonewall Inn incident is of overrated significance, but I think part of that is because “Stonewall” is a cool name. (Not being facetious here. Names are a great part of how history/pop culture catches on).

  • ZT

    P.S. Sadly, the NYC Pride Parade has gotten so far from what it was meant to be. No real comradery or common purpose. It’s nothing but a bunch of competing out-of-towner attention-seeking snots, and real gay and lesbian New Yorkers can’t wait for it to be over. But it DOES bring a lot of $$$ to the local businesses and hotels, so I won’t knock it.

  • meego

    Useless bit of info : the black and white pic is from the 1976 Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco.

  • meego

    @TMikel: Nice to see I’m not the only survivor from the “old days” :)

  • scott ny'er

    @ZT: Hmmm. Well born and raised… and I love Pride NY.

  • TMikel

    Meego – thanks to AIDS and age, we are a vanishing breed. Good to know I am not the only one who remembers!

  • D. Kareem

    Thanks @TheRealAdam. I’ve never heard much mention of gay rights in LA. I’ll def check that out.

  • DrHistorian

    Actually, the stonewall Riots were defended by* Black and Latino Drag Queens.* This should be the first important piece of information to be “remembered.”

  • TheRealAdam

    @D. Kareem: Harry Hay, Mattachine Society, etc.

  • ZT

    scott NYer : Of course SOME New York City natives might like it. And that’s perfectly cool. I’m just speaking generally. But most of the queer dudes I know from the Bronx and Brooklyn don’t see it as anything they relate to. It’s a party for the “others.”

  • Daniel McLion

    @TMikel: I was 16 when I arived in june 1969 in Amsterdam. HAIR! was playing and the whole city was like a gay Woodstock. :)) Of course, not everyone was OUT and for sure, most gay Bars were still “clossets”. LaterI heard about the COC actions in 66-67: A group of 30 or more gays went to “regular’ Dancings and after a drink they all went to the dancefloor. Usually it ended with a polite but firm request to leave. But then they asked if any of the custommers had any objection. And usually it was only a minority. “So, who do you want to leave? Those 5 or us 30???” :)) But then they desided to go to the Hague’s hot-spot (forgot the name) . After the discussion, half a dozen left. To come back with a group of 20 armed with batts, chains… :(
    The police arrived within a few minutes, protecting the gays and arrested the guys. A dozen had to be hospitalized and the rest returned to Amsterdam with minor to severe injuries. But when I moved to Amsterdam in 1970, was same-sex dancing more or less accepted everywhere. :)

  • Little Kiwi

    it’s not “bias” – the reality is that despite incidents in LA (I assume you’re referring to the Black Cat Tavern and the cafeteria riots?) it was indeed the riot at the Stonewall Inn that galvanize things. This is not to say what happened at Stonewall was the first, but it was what got the rest of the country talking.

    it’s not bias, it’s just how history played out. Sorta like how LGBT Youth have been committing suicide at disproportionate numbers for decades, and it’s only in the last year that the rest of the world has decided to give a fuck. it aint a new thing, what’s “new” is that people started to actually talk about it.

  • babo

    PBS did a wonderful documentary about this on “american experience” if I am correct. They have a lot of informative and rare footage and interviews. If you download the pbs app you will be able to watch it.

  • WillBFair

    LA did a ton for us early on, but there was also a serious riot in SF a year before Stonewall. Those NYers are always hogging the credit.
    For TMikel, in ’69, I was 12, and riding with my sisters in the back seat of the station wagon, while my parents drove down Haight St., and the hippies tried to give them acid.
    Later, in ’74 to ’81, I was part of the SF and NY scenes. They were totally cool before aids hit.

  • Little Kiwi

    how is it “hogging spotlight?” despite what happened earlier the reality is that the Stonewall Riots became the tipping point – it ended up being the event that galvanized the Movement on a larger level. this isn’t disregarding what came before, it’s acknowledging that Stonewall riot simply became the turning point.

    let’s not turn this into a gay version of an east coast/west coast rap war. i mean, come on.

  • Michael [email protected]


    No, the first gay rights group in the US was neither in NYC nor LA. It was in Chicago— the Society for Human Rights founded in 1924, twenty-seven years before LA’s Mattachine. The fact that it was quickly shut down by the police does not diminish its significance. Further, while chiefly a social organization with rare forays into rights issues, the gay Veterans Benevolent Association was founded in NYC in 1945…six years before LA’s Mattachine, and lasted 9 years.

    @ ZT: nor are “the ‘modern’ gay rights movements …really Los Angeles based.” “Modern” = “militant” as in public protest and confrontation of oppressors—and, framed at you are in a context of influencing others beyond their own geography, had little national resonance because of the limits of gay media then and the indifference of mainstream media. Further, Mattachine LA members met behind closed blinds and fake names until imploding, while lasting political organizing moved primarily to San Francisco, NYC, and DC with their own more open, more aggressive versions of Mattachine and other groups. There were individual examples of militancy in LA such as actions by Troy Perry, and Mattachine cofounder Dale Jennings’ unprecedented and successful challenge of his police entrapment arrest, and “ONE” magazine cofounder Don Slater’s successful challenge to Post Office censorship. Harry Hay did participate, along with Slater and others, in a 1966 protest of the ban on gays in the military. But that was under the banner of the Los Angeles Committee to Fight Exclusion of Homosexuals From the Aimed Forces. But the idea for protesting the ban in a number of cities on the same day was suggested by Daughters of Bilitis cofounder and San Franciscan Del Martin—an the first protest against the ban—and the first organized gay protest in the US period—was in NYC in 1964.

    I agree that, in and of itself, Stonewall is mythologized because, like the 1959 Cooper’s Donuts “riot” in LA and the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria “riot” [characterized by some as more a transgender than gay event] it was more rebellious anger than rebellion. But the big difference is that Stonewall, unlike the previous two, inspired the creation of actual organizations, primarily the Gay Liberation Front, then Gay Activists Alliance—both in NYC—and they, in turn, inspired the creation of other militant organizations across the country, faster and faster and more and more. As GLF and GAA faded, the nationwide influence of DC’s Frank Kameny rose higher because he and his allies focused not just on local oppression, as those two groups often did, but gay discrimination as a concept, wherever it existed—and the federal government’s role in it with their 1965 pickets of the White House, Pentagon, and State Department, then the symbolic location of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

  • Gay Letters From Millicent to Maude

    We have written a humorous book, Gay Letters From Millicent to Maude, from a legacy of letters that we retained of the period of gay life in the 1950’s. If you want to read what it was like to be gay before the Stonewall Riots then you may enjoy this book which gives insight into a period of American history 15 years before Stonewall. It is available at Amazon at

    The Co-authors

  • Mav

    Stonewall is a good day to remember, since even a lot of the younger queers can be pretty prejudiced against butches and drag queens without stopping to remember that if it wasn’t for them, there would be no “us”.

  • Little Kiwi


    the legions of young gay males who say “drag queens make us look bad, they hold us bacK!” need to get Queered and realize the people they’re angry at at the people responsible for opening the doors for them.

    respect, bitches.

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