50 Years of Stonewall: Then & Now

Annual Reminder picket at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1966. Photo by Kay Lahusen. 

A flyer describing the events of the Stonewall Riots/Christopher Street Riots from 1969. Photo courtesy of Mattachine Society of New York/Manuscripts and Archives Division at The New York Public Library. 

Protest against President Donald Trump’s anti-LGBTQ policies near the Stonewall Inn on Feb. 4, 2017. Photo by Jeffrey Bary.

The Fight For LGBTQ Rights Before Stonewall

In the decades before 1969, LGBTQ Americans experienced a series of shocking federal and local government-backed campaigns aimed at restricting their rights in nearly every facet of public life. Among those efforts was the 1950s Lavender Scare, which saw more than 400 federal LGBTQ workers fired and more than 4,300 service members discharged. In the ’60s, sodomy laws were rewritten to deny LGBTQ Americans everything from hate crime protections to the right to adopt children, with increased policing resulting in the jailing and institutionalization of thousands of LGBTQ Americans.

The Christopher Street Riots/Stonewall Uprising

Growing tensions between anti-LGBTQ policies and LGBTQ citizens finally boiled over in the summer of ’69. On June 28, more than 200 patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bottle bar heavily frequented by gay and trans New Yorkers, clashed with police. Resisting harassment and arrest during a late night bar raid, the patrons engaged in a fiery confrontation  with authorities that evolved into a series of daylong protests. The events would eventually be considered the birth of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

LGBTQ Rights In the 50 Years Since

In the decades following Stonewall, the LGBTQ community faced a series of challenges, including the AIDS epidemic and the passing of both the federal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the Defense of Marriage Act. But around the turn of the millennium, the momentum would begin to shift within the federal government, with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down previous anti-LGBTQ rulings and a series of pro-LGBTQ federal policies broadening civil rights as well as the public visibility of LGBTQ Americans in everything from political office to pop culture.

On June 6, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill formally apologized for the police response at Stonewall, saying: “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong — plain and simple.” The comments came just two years after the commissioner declined to make a similar statement at the request of local LGBTQ rights groups. 

Some local LGBTQ groups and politicians have commended the commissioner’s statement, but others —both locally and nationally — have been critical. Reclaim Pride, which hosts the 2019 Queer Liberation March, a counter-rally to the city’s main Pride Parade, said they were “not impressed by Commissioner O’Neill’s empty apology, given under pressure during Pride Month.”





Estimated percentage of LGBTQ Americans