What was the Stonewall uprising?

by | May 22, 2024 | Everyday Queeries | 0 comments

The gay club Stonewall Inn was an institution in Greenwich Village, New York, which was large, cheap, allowed dancing and welcomed drag queens and homeless youths.

At the time the New York State Liquor Authority prohibited venues from serving gay people under the guise that gay bars were “disorderly” establishments so clubs such as the Stonewall Inn were subject to frequent police raids. 

On one instant in the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn and forced over 200 people onto the street and then used excessive violence against them. 

Fed up with years of police harassment, patrons and neighborhood residents began throwing objects at police as they loaded the arrested into police vans.

The scene eventually exploded into a full-blown riot, with subsequent protests that lasted for five more days.

Drag queen and LGBTQ+ activist Marsha P Johnson holding a drink and smiling at the camera.
Drag queen and LGBTQ+ activist Marsha P Johnson holding a drink and smiling at the camera.

Marsha P Johnson

From modelling for Andy Warhol to being a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), Marsha P. Johnson combined flamboyant joy with determined activism.

As a central figure in gay liberation during the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York, Marsha P Johnson’s (The P standing for ‘pay it no mind’) legacy continues thirty years after their unfortunate passing.

Born in 1945 to Malcolm Michaels and Alberta Claiborne, Marsha P Johnson was an African-American gay man and self-identified drag queen (a performer who adopts a feminine persona with glamorous costumes and makeup). 

During this time in American history, being gay was illegal and considered a mental illness. It was common for gay men to tone down their clothing and appearance for fear of attack.

Despite the Stonewall riots gathering support for the LGBTQ+ community, it was still very common for young gay and trans people to be kicked out of their family homes.

Marsha was nicknamed the “Saint of Christopher Street” (where the Stonewall Inn is located), because of the generosity they had shown towards people in New York’s LGBTQ+ community.

Marsha was 23 during the uprising and resisted arrest but continued protesting in the subsequent days afterwards.

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera was a trans-Latina sex worker and civil rights activist involved in the Black Liberation Movement, Gay Activist Alliance and Gay Liberation Front.

After being abandoned by her birth father and her mother dying by suicide, Sylvia began living on the streets in 1962. Luckily, she was taken in by local drag queens (including Marsha P Johnson) and joined a community of street hustlers.

Alongside Marsha P Johnson , Sylvia Rivera founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) which was an organisation to support gay and trans individuals who had been left homeless. STAR also fought for the New York Transgender Rights Bill and a transgender-inclusive New York State Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act.

Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé DeLarverie was a lesbian woman and drag king whose scuffle with police was, according to DeLarverie and many eyewitnesses, the spark that ignited the Stonewall uprising, spurring the crowd to action. DeLarverie states that she was hit on the head with a baton and fought back whilst suffering a bleeding head wound.

Whether or not DeLarverie was the woman who started the riots, all accounts agree that she was one of several butch lesbians who fought back against the police during the uprising.