50 Years Since Stonewall: The Origins of Pride

By Karen Robertson

Authors Note: This post was originally published in June 2019.

Happy Pride month, blog readers! Each year, during the month of June, LGBTQ communities around the country come together on a large scale to honor where they have been, celebrate who they are, and continue to advocate for a better future. This month, Ohio will see at least 12 Pride events, with 3 more following in August. If you wanted, you could attend a Pride event each weekend of June, without even leaving the state of Ohio!

Why exactly are Pride events held in the month of June every year? If you attend a Pride event this summer, you may see signs, t-shirts, or banners reminding you that “the first pride was a riot.” Pride events are meant to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969. This year, 2019, is particularly significant as it marks 50 years since the pivotal moment at Stonewall.

In 1969, the Stonewall Inn was a refuge for all members of the LGBTQ community in New York City. At a time when known homosexual acts were a crime, the bar was a place where LGBTQ people could go and feel safe being themselves.

Like most LGBTQ friendly bars at the time, the Stonewall Inn did not have a liquor license. Many of these bars were operated by Mafia families, taking advantage of the community’s desperate situation to make money. Police made frequent raids of LGBTQ bars, but would often tip off the owners in advance, requiring hush money in exchange for the community’s continued safety. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the New York Police Department arrived at the Stonewall Inn- but no one knew they were coming.

The police began roughing up patrons at the Stonewall, arrested the employees for their failure to procure a liquor license, and arrested a few patrons under a statute that required citizens to be wearing at least three “gender appropriate” pieces of clothing.

The patrons at the Stonewall Inn that night were cleared out of the bar and onto the street, but unlike during many previous police raids, they decided to stay. No one can say for sure what set off the events that followed, but it was probably a combination of many brewing frustrations. The patrons of the Stonewall were tired of being roughed up by the police and looked down upon by their society. They were also witnessing the social upheaval and radical activism of the 1960s.

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The Stonewall Inn today.

Before the police could get back in their squad cars, a riot began. Many say the resistance began with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, but no record currently confirms that. (Riots are messy and hard to document.) Soon the riot grew to a few hundred people who took to the streets of Greenwich Village for multiple days in the name of LGBTQ rights.

Today, it is widely agreed that the Stonewall Riots began a new era in the gay rights movement, radicalizing activists around the country. The Gay Liberation Front formed immediately after the riots.

On June 28, 1970, the first Pride parade marched through the streets of New York, in honor of what had happened there a year earlier. It was known as the Christopher Street Liberation March, as a recognition of the Stonewall Inn’s location. Activists, afraid of what the city’s reaction might be, nevertheless organized a march from Manhattan to Central Park. They expected a few hundred participants. At least 5,000 showed up.

One of the earliest Pride marches in Ohio happened in Cincinnati in 1973. Even if other LGBTQ Ohioans were not hosting official Pride events yet, many were celebrating and recognizing Stonewall. As early as 1971, the Central Ohio Gay Newsletter listed information for Ohioans interested in carpooling to New York City to join Christopher Street Liberation Day. In 1972, Columbus hosted a statewide Gay Pride Week and All-Ohio Gay Conference during the month of May.  In 1976, Dayton became home to the Greater Dayton LGBT Center. Columbus Pride parades began in the early 1980s and Cleveland Pride began in 1989. And that’s just a handful of Ohio cities and towns.

A lot of this information can be found in early newsletters, magazines, and other LGBTQ publications, many of which have been preserved at the Ohio History Connection. Through the Gay Ohio History Initiative (GOHI) we have also been able to preserve photographs from early Ohio Pride events. Check some out below, and have a great Pride month!

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Columbus, 1991

 

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Columbus, 1990

 

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Columbus, 1990

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Want to learn more about Stonewall? Check out the newly launched virtual monument, Stonewall Forever, created by the LGBT Community Center of New York City. The Stonewall Inn itself is still standing and has been declared a National Monument.