50 Years After Stonewall, We’re Still Disagreeing About What Happened There. That’s Why the Archives MatterBreaking News
tags: Stonewall, archives, LGBTQ
Jason Baumann is the Susan and Douglas Dillon Assistant Director for Collection Development at the New York Public Library, and coordinates the Library’s LGBTQ Initiative. The Stonewall Reader, edited by the New York Public Library, is available now.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a moment of resistance by LGBTQ people against homophobia and transphobia, police harassment and exploitation by organized crime. The conflict started in the wee hours of June 28, 1969, and continued for almost a week. The Stonewall Inn was an illegal club, operating without a liquor license, controlled by the mafia and regularly raided by the police. Stonewall was frequented by a range of LGBTQ patrons, mostly gay men, but also lesbians, drag queens and transgender and gender-nonconforming patrons. And beyond the clientele in the club itself, Stonewall existed in the larger context of Greenwich Village, where many queer and transgender youth were living on the streets, abandoned and rejected by their families and the society at large.
Given the tremendous gains made by LGBTQ activists in the intervening years, it can be difficult for people to remember the oppression suffered by LGBTQ people in the United States in the 1950s and ’60s. Homosexuality was illegal in almost every state in the U.S., with legal penalties ranging from three months in jail in New York to possible life in prison in Nevada. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the psychiatric profession; many LGBTQ people spent long hours in psychoanalysis attempting to be cured, and could also be subjected to electroshock therapy or involuntary institutionalization by psychiatrists and unaccepting families. In New York, LGBTQ people could be denied service in bars or arrested for wearing clothing that did not match their legally-assigned gender.
On that fateful night in June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn, confronted yet again by the fact of their oppression, the LGBTQ people in the club and on the street spontaneously fought back. The conflict marked a turning point in LGBTQ politics in the U.S., leading to the birth of gay, lesbian and transgender movements for liberation.
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