The Effect of the Stonewall Riots in the Gay Rights Movement of the 1970’s
The Effect of the Stonewall Riots in the Gay Rights Movement of the 1970’s
Fear and oppression from the masses, were the only emotions that a member of the LGBT community could expect during the 1960’s and 70’s. At this time in America, peoples such as African Americans and women were fighting for their rights as citizens of America. Yet, there was still a community who had been blatantly cast to the shadows due to their sexual orientation-homosexuals. For many people the police raid on the Stonewall- a popular gay bar in Greenwich, New York- would later turn out to be the Rosa Parks movement of the LGBT community. The Stonewall Riots would raise positive public awareness of the Gay Rights Movement in 1969, and for many more years to come. For the first time gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals were united and fought for the same cause. The Stonewall was considered to be a haven for the oppressed.
When the police first raided the bar Transgenders and the occasional lesbian were also present. Once they began to manhandle a lesbian many forgot their differences and flew to her aid (American Experience: TV’s Most-watched History Series). The Greenwich community was amazed by their will to fight for their rights and by the sheer number of supporters (Franke-Rutaj, Garance). To commemorate the riots, the LGBT community gave the first Gay Pride Parade on June 28th,1970 (American Experience: TV’s Most-watched History Series). The Stonewall Riots made it possible to form an organized protest group which could influence the public’s opinion on the injustice against homosexuals. For the first time, people came onto the streets acknowledging their homosexuality and demanded respect from both the government and society. As well as organizing the scattered gay groups, the Stonewall Riots also provided much needed media coverage of the Gay Rights Movement.
An article of the Advocate from 1969 reported, “The police behaved, as is usually the case when they deal with homosexuals, with bad grace, and were reproached by “straight” onlookers”. Such support from newspapers would show their influence on the public as many straight people would begin to sympathize with the LGBT community. In the same article, a straight couple is interviewed and they chastise the police, “Don’t you know that these people have no place to go and need a place like that bar?”. Previous Public Service Films depicted gays as ruthless sexual predators. With each news story, the general public was shown their struggle against an unsympathetic society (June 28; 1696: Turning Point in Gay Rights History).
After much needed news coverage, the Gay Rights movement gained many supporters once the public witnessed the images of horror in the riots. Following the Stonewall, many urban myths and prejudices were put to rest. Before Stonewall, many measures were taken by both local and state officials to treat homosexuality as a crime against nature and the law. Scholars such as Dr. Charles Sachoretes, taught that no man was born homosexual and that it was developed as early as the first three years of life (Stonewall Uprising). In response to the riots, Evelyn Hooker- head of the National Institute of Mental Health- released a report that stated, “…homosexuality should be considered neither pathological nor criminal” (Ball, Laura).
In an era when according to CBS Reports, two out of every three Americans looked at homosexuals with disgust or fear, science held much weight in their opinion. Many scientific reports of this nature appeared after the riots. In the 1900’s people took doctors’ word as true, and with these reports their fear of what many described as ‘sexual psychopaths’ diminished. After the Civil Rights Movement, many gays who participated also found the strength to fight for their own justice.
The Stonewall Riots helped raise public awareness due to the fact that homosexuals also played a role in many of the movements of the time. A small gay group formed after the riot responds, “We identify ourselves with all the oppressed: the Vietnamese struggle, the third world, the blacks, the workers…all those oppressed by this rotten, dirty, vile, fucked-up capitalist conspiracy” when asked why they support other causes as well (Wolf, Sherry). Members of the LGBT such as the late Minnesota Senator Allan Spear, comment, “[Gay activism] was not something that anybody was optimistic enough about to contemplate taking action though some of us were talking about doing something about it one day.” (Behind the Masks).
The connection between the two groups made it possible to draw more support due to the fact that any person (no matter their race, or skin color) can be homosexual. Before Stonewall, homosexuals hid in the dark and very rarely acknowledged their sexual preferences of their own free will. An activist of the Riots, Eric Marcus comments, “Before Stonewall…there was no ‘being out’, there was just in” (“American Experience: TV’s Most-watched History Series). As the Stonewall riots drew a crowd, gay people found that they were not alone and that there were many people that shared their grief. Once their confidence and members grew, the LGBT community held their first Gay Pride Parade in June 28, 1970 to commemorate the Riots (Chen, Allison).
Positive public awareness was heightened by the sheer number of people who ‘came out’ and declared their sexuality without embarrassment- along with the number of ‘straight’ supporters- during the anniversary. However, the Stonewall Riots were not exempt from negative repercussions. Yellow journalism took hold of the event and portrayed the protestors as incompetent ninnies. Journalism of this kind negatively affected public opinion of the gay rights movement. One article specifically caused much uproar within the gay community: “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees are Stinging Mad” by the New York Daily News.
The article depicted transgender rioters as violent ‘bees’ who molested the male officers, “Queens, princesses and ladies-in-waiting began hurling anything they could get their polished, manicured fingernails on. Bobby pins, compacts, curlers, lipstick tubes and other femme fatale missiles were flying in the direction of the cops”. What they failed to mention was the provocation that instilled such anger towards the police. They carefully avoided mentioning the number of injured protestors, “…official reports listed four injured policemen with 13 arrests”. Yellow journalism such as this did hold some weight on people’s judgment. After reading such articles, one cannot help and sympathize-not with the protestor- but with the law enforcement.
To this day, the Stonewall Riots still hold a positive influence on how our society beholds the rights of the gay community. Our current President, Mr. Obama, even mentioned the Riots when addressing Gay Rights in his inaugural speech (Franke-Rutaj, Garance). To many homosexuals, the Stonewall will forever be the start of their public crusade against society’s prejudice. After hundreds of years of living in obscurity and being looked with either disgust or fear by two thirds of the American population, the LGBT community has accomplished much since the protest in Greenwich, New York. Did the Stonewall immediately change America’s mindset concerning gay rights? Of course it did not, because history is never made over night- but rather, it is the culmination of effort and sacrifice. But what the Stonewall Riot did accomplish was to open our country’s eyes to the obstruction of happiness of the gay community caused by prejudice and hate.
“American Experience: TV’s Most-watched History Series.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 17 May 2013. “Behind the Masks.” Oberlin College LGBT Community History Project. Oberlin College LGBT Community History Project, n.d. Web. 22 May 2013. Chen, Allison. “Stonewall Riots.” Stonewall Riots. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2013. Franke-Rutaj, Garance. “An Amazing 1969 Account of the Stonewall Uprising.” The Atlantic.
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