By: Owen Boice (MCDC 2019 Summer Intern)
Some events shape the history of civil rights. Stonewall is one of them.
On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn—a safe-haven for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, located in Lower Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood—and attacked gay patrons. This event, alone, would not change the landscape of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.
What followed, however, did.
For the next six days following the raid, riots broke out within the gay community. The abuse, harassment, and discrimination toward LGBTQ+ New Yorkers had reached a critical mass, leading to a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.
The community formed groups such as the Gay Liberation Front, Lamda Legal, and Human Rights Campaign, among others, began advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. In addition to formal organization, Stonewall also brought the existence of the LGBTQ+ community into the public’s consciousness.
In the Greater-Rochester area, the Democrat and Chronicle published a four-part segment on the gay community in 1964—four years before Stonewall. The Rochester Gay Liberation Front facilitated a social event in 1971 to raise awareness about the gay community. The Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley formed in 1973, and by 1989, a parade was added to the annual pride activities in Rochester.
Even though the LGBTQ+ community still faces pervasive challenges today, Stonewall and its aftermath have been the impetus for a number of reforms. For instance, discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community was perfectly legal until 2003 when New York State passed an act prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, New York State laws also prohibited same-sex relationships until 1980 when the New York State Court of Appeals abolished the law. Gay couples were unable to marry until July 24, 2011 when New York State became one of the first states to enact marriage equality after Gov. Cuomo signed the legislation a month prior.
While the memory of Stonewall remains a beacon of hope for the LGBTQ+ community, it also speaks to New York State and Monroe County’s commitment to a more equitable society. This June, the LGBTQ+ community celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall—for the watershed moment it was and the civil rights movement it represents. Rochester commemorates the 50th anniversary this week (July 13th- 21st) as we stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community!