Youth Catalyst Team Blog: Pride Month

Michael Berry, Consultant, Youth Catalyst Team
Young People Holding Up Large Pride Flag

To think that Pride wouldn’t have been...if it weren't for, what is said to be, one single brick.

The Stonewall Riots are both well-known and unknown. If you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community, chances are that you know at least some of the historical significance, and if otherwise, you may have never heard of Stonewall before. The legacy of Stonewall began with a fleet of gay bar patrons fighting back against police who went undercover to raid the Stonewall Inn. In a world where something as basic as, holding hands as a seemingly queer couple could get you arrested, many non-queer people saw the Stonewall Inn, at 51 Christopher Street, as a sort of safe haven for queer people. At the time, gay people were not legally allowed to marry, be served alcohol, and performers faced jailtime if they were caught dressing in drag. Despite all of this, the Stonewall Inn was not and would not be the only gay bar in New York City, and it wasn’t held in elite esteem as many have called it out to be.

Being owned by the Mafia was a big part of the reason for the poor conditions of the Inn. It was rather run-down, served watered-down drinks, had a shoddy cleaning system, and was well known for the extortion and blackmail of wealthier patrons in exchange for not being ‘outed’. Despite that ownership, and the Mafia bribing the local police precinct to look the other way, the Inn was still regularly raided. 

On the early morning of June 28, 1969, during another “routine” raid of the Inn by several undercover cops, a catalyst moment for the Gay Rights movement was born. That morning the Stonewall Inn patrons had enough. They were fed up with their mistreatment and fought back against the cops for several days. A small, reasonable group turned into hundreds, and those hundreds shortly grew into thousands. Barricades were broken, property damaged, and demands for rights and justice were made. Many people speculate that Marsha P. Johnson, a gay activist and drag queen, was to have thrown the first brick that ignited the riots. Though she herself said in an interview that it was not her. That she was, in fact, not even there until 2pm that afternoon. Other historians claim there was not a "first brick" at all!

Regardless of the details, the riots that took place between June 28 and July 2 would have a ripple effect on the lives of queer folks. The Stonewall Riots paved the way for queer folks across the nation—gay and lesbian people, trans people, queer people of color—to receive the treatment they went without for so long and even more so deserved. In comparison to the present day, with the riots and protests that we witness on our local streets and those broadcasted on TV, one can only hope for a similar climatic resolution to a modern day civil rights revolution. And with the hope that all who see it through now, and saw it through during Stonewall, will be able to benefit from  the sacrifices and tireless efforts for gay liberation.

We have many to thank from the Stonewall Riots—most notably Marsha P. Johnson, trans activist Silvia Rivera, and bouncer Stormé DeLarverie—but also the brave men, women, and non-conforming folks who stood up for themselves and others. Because of the collective fortitude of everyone who fought back then, modern day queer folks benefit from the uprising that was directly created. The creation of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), which demanded rights for all queer folks and refused to any longer stay quiet and passive. Folks across the nation finally realized that queer folks were not just to be walked over and pushed around and, like many oppressed groups, they were willing and capable of fighting back.

But there is always more to be done to further the lives of not only queer folks, but queer youth, queer people of color, and queer families worldwide. There are still plenty of laws, stigmas, and criminalization around being queer. And not just in the United States but globally. No matter how small one may think their voice is or the way they contribute, every big thing has a seemingly small beginning. Such as a single, perhaps even metaphorical, brick. 

As we continue to do what we can—listen to queer folks, fight for the equal rights, and elevate voices in every space—let us all break out the flags and color-coordinated masks and have an amazing Pride Month!

Here’s some worthwhile resources for any who may need them!

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