Love Triumphs Over Hate: The History of the Stonewall Inn
Every June marks Pride Month worldwide, a display of love, visibility, and solidarity among the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. But the origins of Pride are rooted in a much more radical act than a parade or happy hour: The first Pride was a riot that sparked a revolution for LGBTQ+ individuals in New York City, the United States, and even worldwide.
To truly appreciate the celebratory atmosphere of today’s Pride festivities, it is critical to remember that the very first pride occurred as a struggle against oppression and hatred. Here’s how that unfolded, and why it’s especially important for the cannabis community to reflect on Pride’s roots.
June 27 – 28, 1969: Enough is enough
It was June 1969, and the Stonewall Inn in New York City was bustling with a group of LGBTQ+ individuals seeking shelter from a society that outlawed non-heterosexual activity. Due to these laws, it was common for police to raid LGBTQ+ gathering spaces and break up the party, so it was no surprise when police whistles sounded after midnight, and the doors flung open to reveal a cadre of New York Police Department (NYPD) officers on that hot summer night.
Importantly, police were tipped off when six of their own plainclothes officers reported back that some individuals inside, many of whom were transgender, gender non-conforming, or dressed in drag, were deemed to be “cross-dressing.” This was illegal under New York City at the time, and it served as a pretext for police to raid the bar. A paddy wagon arrived, ready to take those inside to the police station.
It was a familiar scene, but not for long. This time, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn refused to disperse. Instead, they fought back. How the riot began has never been clarified, but one popular history suggests that two transgender, Black women, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, fought off arresting officers and began throwing bricks to push the police back. While Johnson would later say she arrived at the scene well after the riot began, she remains an icon of the Stonewall Riot.
Now, with a revolt in full swing, some of the officers transported their prisoners to the Sixth Precinct, while the officers that first arrived on the scene were pushed back by the raucous crowd – back into the Stonewall Inn itself. Police barricaded themselves inside from the angry crowd, perhaps an ironic turn of events, considering the refuge Stonewall provided to many LGBTQ+ people. The crowd began using parking meters as battering rams, and hurled objects at the rapidly arriving riot police. This went on until 4 a.m.
But this was only the beginning of the Stonewall Inn uprising.
June 28 – 29, 1969: The NYPD strikes back
The Stonewall Inn was in shambles after the NYPD raid, turning over furniture and tearing apart drawers in search of evidence of wrongdoing. Despite this, the Stonewall Inn reopened right away to supporters, who gathered in droves to demonstrate that they would, in fact, not go away.
Predictably, the NYPD, accompanied by riot police once more, responded to disperse the crowd. Demonstrators were beaten and tear-gassed. Hours passed this way, until the crowd finally broke up and retreated in the early hours of the morning.
For a moment, it felt as though the Stonewall Inn uprising had been broken by force: Another safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community in New York City had been fettered out. This feeling wouldn't last long, though; the community had retreated, but it hadn't surrendered.
June 29 – July 1, 1969: Activists defend Stonewall, peace prevails
After the police violently dispersed the crowd the night before, activists gathered around the Stonewall Inn to reclaim the space and educate onlookers about the growing LGBTQ+ rights movement. Police were in attendance, but only small clashes occurred, paling in comparison to the activities that had taken place the previous two nights. The community had reclaimed their turf, even if the Stonewall Inn had been severely, physically damaged. The modern LGBTQ+ movement for civil rights had been sparked, but the struggle was far from over.
The Stonewall Inn uprising’s legacy
Although the uprising had been hard-fought, police raids continued unabated in Greenwich Village for some time. It wasn't until the 1980 court case New York City v. Onofre – 11 years after Stonewall -- non-heterosexual interactions were deemed legal.
The movement had radicalized the LGBTQ+ community in important ways, giving rise to organizations that conducted direct actions and demonstrations that demanded civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Following Stonewall, these actions raised crucial awareness for the plight for LGBTQ+ people around the world.
Today, Pride is very much a time of celebration and positive affirmation of support for the LGBTQ+ community. Pride is also an opportunity to gather together and continue the movement for civil rights; as far as we've come, there remains a long way to go.
How the LGBTQ+ community and the cannabis community intersect
More than 50 years after Stonewall, the impact of that radical act is still felt both culturally and politically. The movement that grew out of the Stonewall continues today, and it is important to remember how recent some of its most notable gains were achieved. Federally recognized marriage equality has only been around since 2015, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to full equality and protection under the law.
This decades-long struggle for civil rights and dignity is one that is intimately relatable to the cannabis community, which is an even stronger reason why cannabis businesses are, and should, be natural allies of the LGBTQ+ community. Despite remaining challenges, both communities are today celebrating historic progress and social acceptance; there has never been a better time to double down on the progress made by those who came before.
Importantly, the cannabis industry owes quite a bit to the LGBTQ+ community’s advocacy for acceptance and rights. At the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when the LGBTQ+ community was clamoring for support and healthcare, prominent activists helped spur the cannabis legalization movement forward. Figures like Dennis Peron and Mary Jane "Brownie Mary" Rathbun were instrumental in the legalization of medical cannabis, first in San Francisco and later statewide.
These would represent the first dominoes to fall in the nationwide movement toward cannabis legalization that persists today; a movement that has included countless LGBTQ+ advocates. You’ll find many organizations across the U.S. advocating for cannabis policy change by contacting their legislators and raising awareness of the harmful impacts of the War on Drugs. The cannabis industry and LGBTQ+ community have long marched hand in hand, and continue to do so now.
So, as we celebrate Pride again this year, it is important to reflect upon the fight for equality and the people who started it all. Pride is not just an opportunity to throw a party, but a celebration of living life sincerely, openly, and with all the love in one's heart. For it was with love, passion, and sincerity that those defenders of the Stonewall Inn stood up to demand dignity, respect, and a space to call home. The legacy of the Stonewall Inn uprising and the movement that grew from that spark makes one thing clear: love will always triumph over hate.
Trulieve 2021 Pride Partners