Stonewall Rebellion Ignites Modern Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement

GLBT patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York City, spontaneously rebelled against a police raid that had been preceded by years of police raids of gay bars in the city. For the first time, sexual minorities rebelled in numbers and with force against systematic oppression, inspiring pride and sparking the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

Summary of Event

In New York City in 1969, the rights of gays and lesbians to congregate and to express their sexuality in public were at best tentative. It was not unusual that gay and lesbian bars were raided and then closed for a period of up to three weeks. The Stonewall Inn, a GLBT bar in Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, came under the jurisdiction of the New York Police Department’s new commanding officer for the sixth precinct, a commander who soon initiated the raid on the Stonewall Inn. [kw]Stonewall Rebellion Ignites Modern Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement (June 27-July 2, 1969)
[kw]Rebellion Ignites Modern Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement, Stonewall (June 27-July 2, 1969)
[kw]Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement, Stonewall Rebellion Ignites Modern (June 27-July 2, 1969)
[kw]Lesbian Rights Movement, Stonewall Rebellion Ignites Modern Gay and (June 27-July 2, 1969)
[kw]Rights Movement, Stonewall Rebellion Ignites Modern Gay and Lesbian (June 27-July 2, 1969)
Stonewall Rebellion
Police abuse and harassment;Stonewall Rebellion
Protests and marches;Stonewall Rebellion
New York City Police Department, and Stonewall Rebellion
Greenwich Village
Police abuse and harassment;New York City
[c]Marches, protests, and riots;June 27-July 2, 1969: Stonewall Rebellion Ignites Modern Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement[0730]
[c]Civil rights;June 27-July 2, 1969: Stonewall Rebellion Ignites Modern Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement[0730]
Pine, Seymour
Smith, Howard
Leitsch, Dick

The Stonewall Inn, Christopher Street, New York City, 1969.

(National Park Service)

Said to be the only gay bar in the city at the time that allowed same-gender dancing, the Stonewall Inn, located at 53 Christopher Street, Christopher Street, New York City near Sheridan Square, drew a diverse crowd: students, drag queens and kings, young African American and Latino drag queens, Drag queens/kings[drag queens kings];and Stonewall Rebellion[Stonewall Rebellion] and some businessmen and older people. The bar was rumored to have ties with organized crime, something not uncommon in big cities on the East Coast.

Around midnight on Friday, June 27, two plainclothes detectives and two undercover female police officers from the sixth precinct entered the Stonewall Inn to observe the employees. At about 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, head of the public morals section, presented management with a search warrant, confiscated cases of liquor, announced the closure of the bar, and began expelling the club’s two hundred or so customers with his force of eight officers. Police paddy wagons came to haul away the bartender, the doorman, and others, including those in full drag. As patrons were herded into the streets, they began to chant, attracting attention and swelling in numbers as friends and passersby joined in the chant.

A commemorative flyer with news stories covering the Stonewall Rebellion.

(Courtesy, Stonewall Veterans’ Association)

The last customer to be guided out, a lesbian, put up a struggle. As the police subdued her, the crowd grew unruly and exploded into rebellion. A rain of coins was released on the police, suggesting the financial payoffs they were rumored to receive. Some threw beer bottles and pulled cobblestones from the street, tossing them in all directions. The eight police officers, severely outnumbered, sought refuge in the empty bar; reporter Howard Smith, Smith, Howard (reporter) of The Village Voice, Village Voice, The (periodical) went in the bar with the police. They locked the front doors, but protesters uprooted a parking meter and used it to batter down the doors. A number of burning objects were tossed into the bar, and the place erupted into flames. The police used a fire hose from inside the bar to put out the fire and to deter the crowd. It was then that Tactical Patrol Force units arrived and began dispersing the crowd.

Eventually, the police gained control over the neighborhood. Thirteen men were arrested on charges of harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Four police officers were injured in the melee; the most serious injury was a broken wrist. The uprising itself began shortly after 3:00 a.m. and lasted about forty-five minutes.

The following evening, Saturday, June 28, throngs of young men congregated at the site of the burned-out bar to read a condemnation of police behavior. Graffiti on the boarded-up windows read “Support Gay Power” and “Legalize Gay Bars.” Tensions mounted as the night progressed, and, by midnight, several hundred people gathered to resume the protest against police.

Police from the Charles Street Station House were unable to control the crowds, and so Tactical Patrol Force units again were called in to help. The units poured into the area shortly after 2:00 a.m. They broke through a line of protesters and, linking arms in a line of their own, swept up and down Christopher Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues to disperse the crowds. Estimates of the number involved in the disturbance were as high as four hundred police and two thousand protesters. Eventually, the crowd dispersed, and police left the area at approximately four in the morning. Three men were arrested on charges of harassment and disorderly conduct. By the following Wednesday, the initial eruption at the Stonewall Inn died down, but a movement was born.


Those two nights outside the Stonewall Inn set in motion the modern movement for gay and lesbian rights. The impulse to fight for equal rights in American society had been strong but latent; the Stonewall Rebellion was a major catalyst that created an immediate and extensive response.

On Sunday, June 29, New York’s Mattachine Society, Mattachine Society led by Dick Leitsch, Leitsch, Dick handed out leaflets calling for organized resistance to police and societal harassment of gays. By Tuesday, July 1, those advocating a more aggressive form of protest had organized the Gay Liberation Front; Gay Liberation Front the group would meet at New York’s Alternative University.

The uprising received cursory coverage in the interior pages of The New York Times on Sunday and Monday, June 29 and 30. The coverage there and in The Village Voice, while scornful, fueled awareness and commitment among not only gays, lesbians, and transgender people but also the people of New York City who supported the cause.

The gay and lesbian rights movement developed with rapid speed. Gay Liberation Front chapters were established and organized in New York and San Francisco, and branches were soon founded in major cities and universities in not only the United States but also Canada, Europe, and Australia. The uprisings at the Stonewall Inn and environs in June of 1969 permanently changed the way GLBT people cope with and confront societal attitudes concerning sexuality and also changed the way society understands and accepts sexual minorities and same-gender sexuality. Also, the rebellion led to mandated sensitivity training for the New York Police Department. Stonewall Rebellion
Police abuse and harassment;Stonewall Rebellion
Protests and marches;Stonewall Rebellion
New York City Police Department, and Stonewall Rebellion
Greenwich Village
Police abuse and harassment;New York City

Further Reading

  • Carter, David. Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.
  • D’Emilio, John. Sexual Battles, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. 2d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.
  • Duberman, Martin B. Stonewall. New York: Dutton, 1993.
  • Marcus, Eric. Making History: The Struggles for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990: An Oral History. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
  • Miller, Neil. Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the Present. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
  • Stonewall Veteran’s Association. http://www An excellent resource that includes media clippings and personal testimony from those who were part of the rebellion.
  • Williams, Walter, and Yolanda Retter. Gay and Lesbian Rights in the United States: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003.

November 17, 1901: Police Arrest “Los 41” in Mexico City

March 15, 1919-1921: U.S. Navy Launches Sting Operation Against “Sexual Perverts”

June 30-July 1, 1934: Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives

August, 1966: Queer Youth Fight Police Harassment at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco

July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed

June 28, 1970: First Lesbian and Gay Pride March in the United States

December 31, 1977: Toronto Police Raid Offices of The Body Politic

October 12-15, 1979: First March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

February 5, 1981: Toronto Police Raid Gay Bathhouses

October 11, 1987: Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

April 24, 1993: First Dyke March Is Held in Washington, D.C.

April 25, 1993: March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation

June, 1994: Stonewall 25 March and Rallies Are Held in New York City

June 19, 2002: Gays and Lesbians March for Equal Rights in Mexico City