Remembering the Stonewall RebellionBreaking News
tags: LGBTQ, police violence, Stonewall Rebellion
Marc Stein is the Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Professor of History at San Francisco State University and the author of The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History (NYU Press, 2019). An online supplementary bibliography references multiple sources for further research on the topics addressed in this essay.
This summer, millions of people around the world will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, when thousands of people—gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, and straight–rioted in the streets of New York to protest an aggressive police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar. The Stonewall uprising was a turning point in gender and sexual activism, setting in motion a wave of demonstrations, marches, and sit-ins that changed the country and the world. But contrary to what many people believe, the rebellion was not unprecedented and it was not the first time that LGBT people fought back. Historians have now documented more than thirty direct action protests in which LGBT activists challenged their mistreatment in the years leading up to the New York riots. And this spring, we have the opportunity to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of a series of violent episodes that contributed to the anger that fueled the summer explosion.
Anniversary commemorations of the Stonewall Riots often highlight the police raid that triggered the uprising, but they rarely reference the wave of violence against LGBT people in the months leading up to the rebellion. Reports of anti-queer police violence in particular spread via major urban newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, alternative periodicals such as the Berkeley Barb, Berkeley Tribe, and Los Angeles Free Press, and LGBT newsletters, newspapers, and magazines, including the Committee for Homosexual Freedom Newsletter, The Ladder, the Los Angeles Advocate, the Mattachine Society of New York Newsletter, and Vector. Some of these accounts suggested that police forces around the country felt newly emboldened by the inauguration of President Richard Nixon in January 1969. The self-proclaimed leader of the “silent majority” had campaigned on a “law and order” platform and a promise to crush the radicalizing political movements that threatened the existing social order. LGBT people and people perceived to be queer suffered greatly in this context.
All of these violent episodes and countless others likely contributed to the growing sense of LGBT anger and frustration that can be found in multiple first-person accounts and oral histories of the uprising. This may help explain why the Stonewall rioters responded as they did when the police invaded their space. And the violence did not end with Stonewall. On March 8, 1970, for example, more than two hundred protesters gathered in Los Angeles to mark the anniversary of Efland’s death. The crowd, estimated to include more than fifty African Americans, was horrified to learn about the latest victim of state violence: local police had killed Larry Laverne Turner, a twenty-year-old African American trans sex worker, earlier that day.
To learn more about the Stonewall Rebellion and its lead up, check out this podcast feauring Marc Stein. https://whyy.org/episodes/before-stonewall-and-pride-philly-staged-lgbtq-protests/
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