On the first of June, the month known as Pride Month, I happened to be in the place where, 53 years ago, the famous Stonewall Riots took place. These riots were the catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world. Former President Barack Obama designated this site a National Monument in 2016.
The riots started when the police raided Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village. These were times when not fitting into the heteronormative world was considered illegal. Members of the LGBTQ+ community tended to take refuge in certain bars or clubs, where they could be themselves and socialise with like-minded people – since, at that point, any bars serving drinks to people suspected of being gay could be shut down. Additionally, showcasing gay behaviour in public – which could be the simple act of dancing with someone of the same sex – was illegal.
The Police were frequently harassing the community but bars without liquor licenses were able to serve it thanks to the Mob. Yes, the Mob. I bet you were not expecting this, right? This unlike partnership was profitable for the Mafia and allowed the LGBT community to keep their safe spaces running. While this wasn’t ideal – organised crime is still organised crime – it was the best way to keep the cops away, or at least to buy them off to stay away.
The famous Stonewall Inn was in fact owned by famous Genovese mobster Fat Tony. In the article How the Mob Helped Establish NYCs Gay Bar Scene, Brynn Holland highlights “Run on the cheap, Stonewall was known for being both dirty and dangerous: It operated without running water behind the bar, glasses were “cleaned” by being dunked in tubs of dirty water, and toilets regularly overflowed. The club also lacked a fire or emergency exit”. Yet, it was the hot spot in town where the LGBT community could gather without fearing prosecution from the police. So, all of the danger was somehow worth it.
The riots began on the 28th of June when the police raided Stonewall Inn taking everyone by surprise (the connection with the Mafia allowed them to be tipped off). The police entered the club with violence, arresting 13 people, including employees and customers considered to be violating the gender-appropriate dress code. Often, people were literally inspected in the toilets to ensure they were indeed women and therefore allowed to wear women’s clothing.
This time though, people have had enough. Tired of the constant harassment and social discrimination, residents and patrons did not disperse as usual when such raids occurred – instead, hung around the bar and the scene became even more violent. The protests continued for more than five days, often involving thousands of people
While these did not start the Gay rights movement, these events were key to bringing forward LGBT political activism. One year afterwards, the first Gay Parade took place, going from Stonewall Inn to Central Park, with the official chant “Say it loud, gay is proud”.
While we’ve come a long way, there are still 78 countries currently where homosexuality is illegal, 7 of those punishing it with the death sentence. Yet, even in countries where this no longer happens, discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community is still prevalent. In a study commissioned by Stonewall in 2017, in the UK, one in five LGBTQ+ people had experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the previous 12 months, with one in six reporting they have been discriminated against in their daily life while going to a cafe, restaurant, bar or nightclub based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. These numbers only go up when talking about LGBTQ+ from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March in the UK. Stonewall organisation has commissioned another study on the public perception of the LBTQ+ community. It shows amazing results, showing that more than seven in ten Brits would support someone close to them who came out as LGBTQ+, and greater numbers of people now feel comfortable being out as their true selves.
Still, this year the UK Government went back on its promise to implement a trans-inclusive ban on conversion practices – which ends up showing little support for the trans community and going against the interest and willingness of the UK public, and this is already being felt UK Government’s own research has shown that reported LGBTQ+ hate crime has grown at double the rate of other forms of hate crime over the past two years! If you want to know how to show your support, please visit the Stonewall website and sign the pledge for a positive change.
There is always so much goodness in travel, and visiting such monuments and taking some moments to reflect and find out more about a certain social issue makes us better human beings and, for me, it makes me a better ally of the LGBTQ+ community.
That is all for today folks! Happy Pride Month 🏳️🌈