LGBTQ History

One night in 1969, a movement caught hold & has never let go

Agitation Turns to Action

That changed when resistant customers were dragged to the paddy wagons. Many reports indicate that one lesbian customer in particular fought the police with all her strength: she fought from the bar to the patrol car, forced them back to the bar, and back again to the vehicle before she was finally physically lifted into it and detained. Either she or another woman in the crowd shouted “Do something!” The crowd replied with shouts of disapproval at the police, calling them names and demanding their rights.

In a very short time, the shouting escalated in hostility and aggression. Small projectiles – coins and bottles mostly – were thrown at the police. When Deputy Inspector Pine feared the crowd might tip the paddy wagon and cars over, he sent them back to the precinct headquarters to drop the prisoners and return immediately.

The hostility ebbed for a moment after the vehicles departed but quickly returned. Pine and the other police were pushing back against the crowd, charging into them to scatter and scare them. When one of the officers’ eyes was struck, Pine grabbed the person whom he believed to be the perpetrator and dragged him into the bar. The man was handcuffed to a radiator. Outnumbered and afraid of increasing violence, the police fled into the bar and closed and barricaded the door.

Outside the Stonewall, the crowd erupted in fury. The homeless youth from Christopher Park were particularly agitated and began throwing larger projectiles and burning debris. Others threw cobblestones. They stopped cars in the street and rocked them. A parking meter was torn out of the ground and turned into a battering ram.

Police Panic

Inside the Stonewall, police were unable to connect to the department and began to panic. Pine was afraid for his and his officers’ lives. They used the fire extinguisher to put out the fires the burning debris caused. They snuck one of the small female officers out of a vent to run for help. Guns were held at the ready.

Just when the crowd was about to burst through the door, two fire trucks arrived, followed shortly by police backup including another paddy wagon. They parted the crowd. The officers inside the Stonewall escorted their remaining prisoners to the newly arrived vehicles. The prisoners fought, and the crowd continued to shout, fight, and throw things at the police.

As the paddy wagon was almost loaded and ready to leave, the Tactical Patrol Force arrived. Known as the riot police, the TPF were equipped with helmets, massive shields, tear gas, and heavy clubs. The fire trucks turned their hoses on the crowd. Patrolmen, TPF agents, firefighters did their best to clear the streets.

A New Sense of Community

Despite the incredible show of force by the police, the queer community persisted. They fought the police. They mocked them with songs and kick-lines. Witnesses lingered until dawn. The next night, another crowd formed outside the Stonewall; again the TPF were called in to disperse it. Groups formed and were dispersed for nearly a week.

Stonewall is not a creation myth; we did not begin at Stonewall. And it was certainly not our apotheosis; we did not reach some transcendent place and evaporate into the ether. During the years of nights between that one and this, we have savored many victories, mourned many lives, and shared many moments. But that night was the first time many of us understood we were an “us” at all.

As Allen Ginsberg said, “They’ve lost that wounded look,” and we lost that look together at Stonewall.

This article first ran on Bilerico.

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