Were it not for the pandemic, the Forum, along with many other organisations supporting LGBTQIA+ people, would be taking part in Pride in London this month. June has been established as Pride Month because the Stonewall riots began on 28 June 1969.
In the early hours of that day, trans women of colour, lesbians, self-proclaimed drag queens, gay men, sex workers, homeless teenagers, many of them LGBT+, and LGBT+ allies fought back against police harassment of LGBT+ people. A routine police raid at the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City, a squalid bar run by the Mafia, turned into an insurrection on the streets of Greenwich Village that persisted for several nights.
Much has been written about the Stonewall riots. Rather than writing yet another account, I thought it would be more useful to curate a range of different resources that I found interesting in researching the topic. A list can be found at the foot of this blog.
The prominence of these events was raised by two semi-fictional films (1995 and 2015), particularly the second, both entitled ‘Stonewall’. Both films have been criticised by LGBT+ activists for their failure to reflect accurately what triggered the riots and who was involved. Historians Martin Duberman (1993) and the late David Carter (2004) carried out extensive research including interviews with many of those involved – a great challenge when the event was so chaotic and unplanned. Perhaps because some of the many myths about the Stonewall riots were portrayed in the above films, several articles were published in 2018-2019 ‘exploding’ the myths.
This appeared on the front page of The New York Daily News on Sunday, June 29, 1969, showing ‘street kids’ who fought with the police.
The Stonewall riots arguably served as the catalyst for the ‘gay rights movement’ or ‘gay liberation’ as it was then called. Those involved in the (unplanned) riots were not an organised group with a coherent philosophy. However, for gay campaigning organisations such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis the riots showed that radical action could be productive where their attempts at assimilation had failed. In the immediate aftermath of the Stonewall riots in July 1969, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was formed: an organisation far more radical than those that had gone before.
On the first anniversary of the riots, a protest march was held: the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day 1970.
Similar events were held in other US cities.
1970 poster for the US GLF.
In England, the inaugural meeting of the UK GLF was held in the basement of the London School of Economics on 13 October 1970. Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter had witnessed the effect of the GLF in the US and created a parallel movement.
In 1972, the first British Gay Pride Rally was held in London with 1000 people marching from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park. Thereafter, annual Pride parades and rallies have continued in London and many other UK cities.
The first British Gay Pride Rally held in London (1972)
Many seasoned activists such as Peter Tatchell have expressed concern that Pride has become more of a party than a protest while there are still many profoundly serious issues faced by many LGBTQIA+ people worldwide. Indeed, in 2017, ‘Movement for Justice by Any Means Necessary’ and other campaigning groups delayed the start of the Pride in London parade. The protest aimed to re-politicise Pride by highlighting the UK’s unfair treatment of LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers and refugees. Doubtless the controversy about LGBTQIA+ activism and the purpose of Pride will continue, but it is certainly a debate worth having.
Recommended reading, viewing and listening
- ‘Stonewall: The Basics’ (2019), Stonewall 50 Consortium. (Booklet providing an overview.)
- ‘Stonewall Forever: A documentary about the past, present and future of Pride.’ (2019) Directed by Ro Haber. LGBT Center NYC.
Before the Stonewall riots
- Documentary (1984): ‘Before Stonewall’
- Baumann, Jason (editor) and New York Public Library (2019). ‘The Stonewall Reader.’ Penguin. ISBN: 978-0-143-13351-3.
The Stonewall riots
- Duberman, Martin (1993). Stonewall. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-525-93602-2.
- Carter, David (2004). ‘Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution.’ St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 978-0-312-34269-2.
Fictional accounts of the Stonewall riots on film
Myths of Stonewall
- Segal, Mark (2018) ‘Busting the myths of Stonewall after 50 years.’ LGBTQ Nation, 15 October 2018.
- Carter, David (2019). ‘Exploding the Myths of Stonewall.’ Gay City News, 27 June 2019.
- New York Times (2019). ‘The Stonewall You Know Is a Myth’. And That’s O.K. NYT Celebrating Pride. 31 May 2019. (Mini-documentary.)
Aftermath of the Stonewall riots – the Gay Liberation Front (GLF)
- Power, Lisa (1995) ‘No Bath But Plenty Of Bubbles: An Oral History of the Gay Liberation Front 1970-73.’ Cassell. ISBN 978-0-304-331956.
- Walter, Aubrey (Editor) (2018). ‘Come Together: The Years of Gay Liberation 1970-73.’ Verso ‘Radical Thinkers’ Series. ISBN 978-1-78873-238-3.
- ‘Making Gay History’ podcast – interviews with many of the people involved in campaigning and activism in the USA.
- Marcus, Eric (2002). ‘Making Gay History.’ Harper-Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-093391-3.
 The Pride London Parade 2021 is now scheduled for 11 September.