June 28, 1969: The Stonewall riots begin.
The Stonewall riots, though not the first protest of its kind, is commonly regarded as the beginning of the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s and the modern LGBT rights movement. It erupted in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The Stonewall Inn opened in 1967 as a Mafia-funded gay establishment, attracting and serving patrons of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as transgender patrons, who were often barred from other establishments, while technically lacking a valid liquor license to do so; at the time, many such establishments were closed down or refused licenses by the New York State Liquor Authority for promoting “indecent conduct”, forcing many (such as the popular Stonewall Inn) to operate illegally. The owners of Stonewall utilized bribes and other underhanded tactics to keep the establishments open, and the bar was also prepared for regular police raids - even to relocate, if such measures were necessary.
One of these police raids took place on the evening of June 27 to the morning of June 28 resulting in thirteen arrests, but more importantly, an event that triggered America’s LGBTQ community to public action. In accordance with “standard procedure”, the policemen barred the doors and began checking the identifications of the patrons, in some cases leading select customers to bathrooms to verify their sex. As the policemen assembled the patrons in line and transported the seized alcohol to police cars, a crowd began to form outside Stonewall to watch the events unfold. What finally sparked a full-scale riot was, reportedly, the cry of one woman, who yelled “Why don’t you guys do something?” to the crowd of bystanders, and then was shoved into a police wagon. Hundreds of people then broke into a riot, scuffling with the police, smashing windows, and hurtling items. These were not spontaneous, random acts of destruction, but rather the culmination of pent-up anger and frustration over the continued silencing and suppression of the communities; said one demonstrator:
We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place…
A lull interrupted the rioting before an even larger demonstration began over the next few days, collectively making up the country’s first major and highly-publicized gay rights demonstration.