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.
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”.
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 TheBlackoutBlog.com