NEW YORK — I have visited the Stonewall Inn before. Like any self-respecting ally, it is a pilgrimage that one should make when in New York. This past summer I found myself within a block of the bar where the Gay Rights movement started and thought I would walk by again, especially as it was within a few weeks of the 50th anniversary of the uprising that started the movement.
The Stonewall Inn, located at 53 Christopher St., was a fairly unassuming bar — the late ’60s was not a time to draw attention to a gay hangout. But in the early hours of June 28, 1969, police raided the bar, sparking an uprising of resistance that for the LGBT+ community ranks with the Selma to Montgomery March as a pivotal moment for civil rights. Demonstrations continued for several days at Christopher Park across from the inn and in the neighborhood.
According to a pamphlet available at Christopher Park, gay bars were often operated by organized crime and the police made routine raids. The arrested were normally released after being photographed and humiliated. But on June 28, following what appeared to be a routine raid, people crowded around and fought back.
The crowd shouted “Liberate Christopher Street” and “Gay Power.” LGBT youth blockaded the street and police charged, the crowd ran, but familiar with the narrow streets in the area they doubled back, surprising police. The pamphlet quotes demonstrator Tommy Schmidt saying, “What excited me was I finally was not alone.”
The following year, on the anniversary of the uprising, the Christopher Street Gay Liberation March started with a few hundred people, which swelled to several thousand by the time it reached Central Park. This march became an annual event and Gay Pride parades are held all over the world as a result.
Now the Stonewall Inn is covered with pride flags, proudly a symbol of a people’s movement. There is a small square across from the bar, Christopher Park, a gathering place for people who visit the area or who just want to sit and enjoy a summer’s day. It is a designated national park. A statue by renowned artist George Segal is positioned in the park, featuring a pair of couples. Two males stand in conversation, while two females sit on one of the benches. The beauty of the statues is that they are involved in mundane, day-to-day activities. These are not heroic, epic statues. They represent what the LGBT+ community is. Ordinary people living ordinary lives.
The same as everybody else.