Remembering Stonewall riots, a landmark event in LGBTQ movement

Stonewall riots saw scores of then NY city's most marginalised rallying for liberty

Stonewall-riots-history Stonewall protests have come a long way from breaking gender stereotypes to challenging authorities to rewrite laws and policies

Across the world, groups part of the gay rights movement are in joyous pangs of yet another queer pride month. India has a reason to be all the more happy owing to the Supreme Court decriminalising same-sex relationships in November last year, as do queer groups elsewhere. Taiwan's parliament approving a bill toward 'same-sex marriages' made it the first country in Asia to do so.

In the wake of these landmark moves, let us take a look at the pride parades and processions that have been happening. India, in its youth, has found activists who are willing to rally and holler slogans for the issue in cities big and small, while fighting for gender equality.

The year 2019 holds its significance in the calendar as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the very first uprising of queer people against oppressive forces.

Although Stonewall was not the first-ever act of activism, it was the event which led to the formation of the first (of many) gay liberation groups in the United States. Many stand-alone events of transgender and gay activism happened before Stonewall, like the Compton Cafeteria Riot of1966, or the protests by the group Mattachine society, an LGBT political outfit. But none of them blew up like the Stonewall did.

The Stonewall riots, as it is called, was inherently an uprising where a crowd of two or three hundred took to resistance. The Stonewall Inn, where it all happened, was from where the event took its name. Set at a time when queer people were loathed by everyone alike, the events at this gay bar in one of New York city's prominent gay ghettos of Greenwich Village is very relevant due to its scale and the spontaneity of the events that went down.

When on the morning of June 28, 1969, the police turned up at their doors without notice and lined up drag-queens and patrons, nobody thought it was going to be a sleepless night. Police raids were not an uncommon affair, and besides, the mafia-controlled Stonewall Inn would be notified of any as the cops were on their payroll.

What then triggered the protests? While police units rounded up drag-queens and patrons inside the bar, they may have taunted a few or even made advances towards a few lesbian women. Meanwhile, outside the Inn more and more people were crowding up. One of the women, Storme De Larverie, who came out of the inn, shouted, “Why don't y' all do something?”

The Stonewall event cannot be called a riot as such, a patron who was present there puts it better. It can be more appropriately called a rebellion. Not the 'overthrow the state' kind of rebellion, but more like a rebellion from within, he said.

While there may be many accounts of what could have been the trigger, the Stonewall sure was not a "cheering and dancing" party that went all berserk. Historians confirm how relevant its scale was. Not only the people who got rounded up but also the crowd that gathered outside the inn took to the streets while the police waited for support.

As historian David Carter puts it, "It was totally spontaneous and this spontaneity gives it its power, its beauty." Carter is a witness to the event and later went on to write a book about the same.

In a bid to get back at the cops, they would even go on to raise slogans which went like this: "We are the Stonewall girls, we wear our hair in curls, we don't wear underwear, to show our pubic hair."

While taunts like these were recorded at the rebellion which spanned nearly a week, it hardly yielded any desired results. It took a year from the Stonewall Inn event for things to actually get some direction. But the Stonewall uprising did indeed inspire the LGBT movement. And exactly a year after the Stonewall went down (on June 28, 1969), New York city saw the Christopher Street Liberation Day, generally considered the first pride parade in history.

Stonewall riots saw scores of the then New York city's most marginalised rallying for the liberation of the queer. It had drag-queens, transgenders, and homeless queer youngsters demonstrating against the police's long standing history of use of force against the gay community.

Stonewall protests have come a long way from breaking gender stereotypes to challenging authorities to rewrite laws and policies. With liberation in mind and objectivity at heart, gay pride parades in India will soon follow suit in invoking the marvel of the Stonewall.

While the pride month in India commenced with Pune's ninth Pride Parade on Sunday, the country needs to look at legalising most spheres of the constitution which can hold back the rights of the queer population.

Pride parades have garnered more support and attendance in India ever since the November 2018 Supreme Court ruling. But looking ahead, what needs further doing is the right to same-sex marriages. Amongst the many freedoms the queer community should have in common with the heterosexual population, same-sex marriages must be the next in line. There was an increased attendance at the Pride Parade in Pune this year, but what is more significant is the fact that fewer faces were covered this time.