The Stonewall Riots, also called the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world. (Continue Reading from The History Channel)
At the time of the uprising, consensual sexual relations between men or between women were illegal in every US state except Illinois. Gay people could not work for the federal government or the military, and coming out would deny you a license in many professions including law and medicine.
The laws in New York state were particularly punitive despite - or perhaps partly in response to - a growing number of gay men and women moving to New York City from across the US. Thousands were arrested each year in the city for ''crimes against nature", solicitation or lewd behavior. Some had their names published in newspapers, which meant they lost their jobs. Even what you wore was policed - fewer than three pieces of clothing deemed appropriate to your gender could put you in handcuffs.
There was no refuge for them in bars or nightclubs. The local liquor laws in New York City were interpreted in a way that meant serving alcohol to gays and lesbians could close down any licensed premises because that made the venue "disorderly". Dancing with someone from the same sex could be interpreted as a "lewd" offense.
A crackdown on the city's gay bars began in the early 1960s. The Mafia stepped in to run many of them, charging more for watered down drinks and paying off the authorities. Despite this exploitation by the Mob, patrons of the Stonewall Inn regarded it as a sanctuary, a rare place for self-expression and affection. Uniquely, it had a dance floor.
As the raids increased in frequency in the summer of 1969, with a mayoral election looming, the Stonewall became an obvious target. It was run by criminals and it sold alcohol without a license. There were also rumors the Mafia was blackmailing its wealthy customers. But as the police closed in, they had no idea what they were walking into - the sense of injustice was palpable, not just from the recent raids but a number of vigilante attacks. On the hottest night of the summer, all this tinderbox needed was a spark. (Continue Reading from BBC News)