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Stories of Pride: The 50th Anniversary of Stonewall

21 August 2019

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, an important part of LGBTQ history and the ongoing fight for equality. Co-operative Bank colleague, Pete Harrison-Dyson visited the Stonewall Inn in New York whilst on holiday with his husband, below are his words detailing the history and legacy of Stonewall. 

Whilst on holiday in New York with my husband and exploring Greenwich Village, we came across the Stonewall Inn that holds a significant place in the history of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning).

Back in 1969, the solicitation of homosexual relations was an illegal act in New York City (and most other urban centres). Gay bars were places of refuge where gay men and lesbians and other individuals considered sexually suspect could socialise in relative safety from public harassment. However, many of these bars were subject to regular police harassment.

The Stonewall Inn was one such place and reportedly operating without a liquor licence. In the early hours of Saturday June 28th 1969, nine policemen entered the Inn, arrested the employees for selling alcohol without a licence, roughed up many of the clients, cleared the bar, and in accordance with New York criminal statute at the time, arrested anyone not wearing at least three items of “gender appropriate clothing”. Several people were taken into custody and this was the third such raid on Greenwich Village gay bars in a short period.

What was different this time was that people outside the bar did not retreat or scatter as they had in previous incidents. Their anger was apparent and vocal as patrons were forced into a police van. The crowd began to jeer and jostle the police and bottles and debris were thrown. Accustomed to more passive behaviour, the policemen called for reinforcements and barricaded themselves inside the bar while some 400 people rioted. The police barricade was repeatedly breached and the bar set on fire. Police reinforcements arrived in time to extinguish the flames and eventually the crowd dispersed.

The riots outside the Stonewall Inn were sporadic for the next five days and are now seen by many academics as a spontaneous protest against perpetual police harassment and social discrimination suffered by a variety of sexual minorities in the 1960s.

Why are the Stonewall riots so significant? The incident was perhaps the first time lesbians, gays and transgender people saw the value in uniting behind a common cause. Stonewall soon became a symbol of resistance to social and political discrimination that would inspire solidarity amongst homosexual groups for decades and it served as a catalyst for a new political activism.

From a personal perspective, if it were not for the actions of brave people such as these to stand up to discrimination, I would not be able to live openly as a gay man today nor would I have the legal right to have married my husband last year.

Pete Harrison-Dyson

Pete is a member of our Proud Together network, which supports LGBT+ colleagues across The Co-operative Bank. You can read more about the Proud Together network here. Pete cites Encyclopaedia Britannica as a source for writing this article.

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