Eagles for Pride and Young Americans for Liberty discuss “Riots for Rights”

Avaerie Fitzgerald

Over 50 years ago, a riot took place which largely impacted the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the police officials who often raided designated havens for those members in Greenwich Village, New York.

Eagles for Pride, in collaboration with Young Americans for Liberty, held a discussion on Feb. 27 entitled, “Riots for Rights: A Presentation on the Stonewall Riots.” The room held members of each group, who take an interest in the discussion of liberty and the historical significance of the riots that took place on June 28 through July 3 of 1969.

Katie McKay, Vice President of Membership for Eagles for PRIDE, and Jacob Nestle, president of Young Americans for Liberty, stood at the front of the Ashbrook Center, each providing a speech on the history of LGBTQ rights and the historical riot.

“It was recently 50 years since Stonewall and I had wanted to do an event co-sponsored with Eagles for PRIDE for a long time, Nestle said. “Probably the most interesting thing for me was just learning how unplanned it all was, and learning how the people’s emotional reactions came all at once, from being a crowd of bystanders, to taking direct action against people who were trying to use force against their community. I try to put myself in their shoes in thinking about what the energy of that moment was.”

Retrieved from Eagles for Pride Twitter

The history of the Stonewall riots begins when the police raided the Stonewall In, which was a designated haven for the gay, lesbian and transgender members of the community. In 1969, the laws prohibited all homosexual acts.

Any restaurant, bar or store that catered to gay people, or employed gay people were at risk of getting shut down.

As common as the police raids were, this one instance on this one night, several LGBTQ members fought back.

This started a revolution.

“I think the most important thing to take away that people don’t often consider is how integral Stonewall was to forming the culture of the LGBTQ community,” McKay said. “Without Stonewall, there would be no Pride Parades, there would have been no STAR or Gay Liberation Front. Stonewall set so much of the community’s culture in action that I can’t fathom what it would look like without it.”

According to history.com, during a routine raid undercover police officials targeted the Inn for the second time in one week, picking out the bar’s employees and cross-dressing patrons, since it was illegal in New York at the time to dress as the opposite sex.

After several arrests, many of the bar’s patrons began to throw pennies, slash the tires of the police vehicles and throw bottles at the arresting officers, all whilst calling out names in disgust.

After many nights of protests and slurs, the Stonewall Inn became the meeting place for LGBT community members and those that supported them, while the police officials had slowly begun to shy away from the scene.

One year after the riots took place, the first Gay Pride Week was started to remember the event that sparked a movement. The first parade of many.

Mark Gorsuch, an attendee at the event on Friday went to the 50-year anniversary of Stonewall, which took place in New York last June.

“It was very interesting because I had never been to New York City or to a pride event before, and it was twice as big as the largest Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was super huge,” Gorsuch said.
While other smaller parades take place to commemorate the event, the parade in New York where it originally took place lasted 12 hours.

“The thing that stuck out to me the most about it was how normalized it was,” he said. “There were drag queens and gay men and women watching, but there also was heterosexual couples with their kids in strollers watching.”

What was once an event that was feared by Americans, is now more widely accepted and many believe this spurs from the events that unfolded that night in 1969. Katie McKay spoke in the discussion about the importance of the event both in terms of acceptance and momentum.

Following a question asked after the discussion, McKay said, “The queer community was by nature and by necessity a very isolated entity until recent years. Now that that’s opening up, there is instinctual resistance to that because it’s not historically what was done or what was accepted, but it’s also in a way what we’ve been striving for forever.”

After 50 years, there still is a hesitancy for people to believe the LGBTQ members were defending their individual rights. This focus of seeing LGBTQ members as different and wrong is becoming slowly distant, as the country continues to welcome celebration and support from all states.

Gorsuch said, “Even a decade ago, a pride march was a very small thing that people in the community and a few allies went to, but the fact that this was a family event for people I found very interesting.”