Time to Tell the Truth About Stonewall—and the Flawed LGBT Activism That Followed – The Daily Beast

Was Stonewall really a riot?

Disgusted with the mainstreaming of gay liberation, a number of radically-minded queers, scholars, and activists have, on this 50th anniversary of the event, emphasized that the events of June 28 to 30, 1969, were a riot, started by trans women of color, which gave birth to a radical gay liberation movement that, for 10 years, pushed a radical and intersectional program of revolution.

In this telling, the assimilationist tactics of marriage equality, #loveislove, and the Human Rights Campaign are a betrayal of the radical roots of gay liberation.

This myth is neither accurate nor helpful.

First, while the three days of the Stonewall protests were sometimes riot-like, the actual sequence of events is far more complex, nuanced, and multi-vocal. In fact, they were just as multi-vocal as today, with the same conflicts between radicals, liberals, and moderates.

Protesters ranged from violent cells like the Motherfuckers and other anarchists and radicals of the ’60s to moderate-minded gay and lesbian activists from the Mattachine Society. As Gideon Grudo pointed out in his excellent Daily Beast piece delineating the history and reality of the riots, the myth that the LGBT movement began with Stonewall is also false.

The first night, June 28, was the most riot-like, and also the most racially diverse. Police burst into the Stonewall, which, like most gay bars, was operating without a liquor license under the protection of Mafia bosses and police bribery; ironically, the instigator of the raid was a ‘good cop’ who refused to go along with the grift.  

Cops harassed patrons, as usual. They performed “anatomy checks” on transvestites (as they were then known). They beat people up, including one lesbian, probably Stormé DeLarverie who shouted at onlookers, “Why don’t you guys do something!”  

Surprisingly, some people did.  

They fought back, throwing coins and trash at the cops, and eventually forcing the police to hide out in the Stonewall itself.  (Despite the recurring theme of “who threw the first brick at Stonewall?” there’s actually, as Grudo and others pointed out, no record of such a projectile being thrown.)

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