🏳️‍🌈 The First Pride Was a Riot. And Don’t Forget It.

About four years ago, people infuriated by George Floyd’s murder turned to the streets. Most, but not all, of the action was peaceful. When people began to claim that the destruction of property never solved anything, I was quick to point out that the Stonewall Riots in 1969 launched the LGBTQ civil rights movement as we know it.

Someone challenged me and said Stonewall was a protest, not a riot.

Which is bullshit.

Stonewall was, by every conceivable definition, a riot. It was spontaneous, disorderly, violent, and destructive. It may have started with the shot glass heard ’round the world, but it quickly escalated.

Police officers, under attack, tried to barricade themselves in the bar they had raided just hours ago. Rioters attempted to bash the door down using a parking meter as a battering ram. They also tried to set the bar on fire, knowing full well that the building had no fire exits or running water.

The riots died down each morning and picked up again after dark. They lasted for five days and galvanized LGBTQ people. In just a few months, groups like the Gay Liberation Front took shape, pushing for activism over incremental change. A year after Stonewall, the first Pride march took place.

In recent years, I’ve seen efforts to make the Stonewall riots seem more peaceful and respectable. Hence, people claiming it was a protest and not a riot.1

In fact, a 2015 film whitewashed the Stonewall uprising. Literally. While the Stonewall Inn’s patrons were typically people of color, trans people, and drag queens, the film revolves around a white cisgender man who didn’t even exist — the character was created for the film!

You don’t have to condone violence. You don’t have to like what happened at Stonewall. But don’t deny the reality of what happened that night in 1969 and what it achieved.

1 That being said, it was certainly a fabulous riot:

They [the police] formed a line trying to push the rioters back, but the crowd were having none of it. They started their own line, an impromptu chorus line at that, with synchronised kicking like the Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall and singing a song to the tune of ‘Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-De-Ay’: ‘We are the Stonewall girls. We wear our hair in curls. We don’t wear underwear. We show our pubic hair.’ This was something new – weaponised camp as part of a violent, disorganised, political uprising.

“Camp! The Story of the Attitude that Conquered the World” by Paul Baker