It was the era of post war, World War II having been said and done and they return to normality in the States. It was also the era of witch hunts and McCarthy, making the lives of gay men and women a living hell: denying them jobs, keeping them on lists, hunting down their watering holes. It was a time of humiliation. It was decades of social abuse. And it was the beginning of a firestorm which no one saw coming.
It was the time for birth, for people to come together clandestinely. In response to the restrictions placed on gay men, the Mattachine Society was created; a place where gay men could get together and be themselves. The society’s agenda was to integrate, to show the general public that gay men were no different than anyone else. At the same time came the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian organization which initially was formed for the ladies to get together and dance but grew to include the same agenda as the Mattachine Society: integration into society. Neither of these groups were violent or outspoken. Neither of them were fervently pushing for legal rights. Mattachine developed additional chapters, the one in Washington D.C. being more active and trying to change the view of psychologists, as during this time homosexuality was viewed as a mental illness.
It was 1966, in a small cafe in San Francisco. As the fringes of gay society gathered and milled about, the police raied the cafe to arrest the transvestites, which was actually outlawed. The drag queens, hustlers and transvestites rose up, and a riot ensued, not just on that day but days later when the glass was replaced in the cafe. The fire had started in San Francisco.
It was 1969 in Greenwich Village, and a night unlike any other at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street. The Stonewall Inn, a Mafia owned gay bar without a liquor license and operating under the protection of the mob, was frequently raided, although they were also frequently tipped off beforehand. This night, June 28, they were not. The New York police raided the bar and made their arrests but in an unusual event, the wagons didn’t show up on time. As a result, the discarded patrons and passers-by congregated outside, milling about with curiosity. As several patrons who were arrested were brought out, the crowd started to agitate. According to reports, a woman started enciting the crowd, saying “why don’t you do something?”, imploring the crowd to take action against this raid. Then it started. What was considered the rejects of the gay community – the hustlers, the drag queens, the transvestites, lesbians – rose up and started throwing whatever was at hand at the p0lice, at the building, shouting out that they weren’t going to take it anymore. The police would lock themselves in the Stonewall until backup came and the riot would continue, spilling onto adjacent streets. Once the smoke cleared, the police getting some control over the situation and the fire put out on the Stonewall, the riots would continue for several days to come. A fully fledged conflagration burned out of control in the hearts of the gay community.
This was the beginning of the Gay Rights movement. Out of these riots were born the organizations that would push for gay equality rights. From these transvestites and hustlers, drag queens and lesbians was brought forth a light in the darkness of our lives and a cry that we won’t go quietly, nor go away. The mainstream gay community, the Mattachine Society, were appalled. There wen’t the plan to just blend in. Now the issue of gay rights would need to be addressed as the community took a stand against decades of repression.
From the ashes of these fires were born the first gay activist organizations. These people would lay the groundwork for the future and fight tooth and nail for equality for every part of the GLBT communities. Some went about it in an organized fashion, quietly manipulating the gears of the machine to get the Mafia out of the gay businesses, or get laws passed. Others that formed would do it more loudly, shouting to any who would listen that the treatment was unfair.
While many of the original organizations have changed hands and altered their names, their message still rings true in this day. We deserve better.
And they never thought that this could happen here.