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Fighting Back: "We Are the Stonewall Girls"
Fighting Back: "We Are the Stonewall Girls"

Stonewall Inn, 1969. Photograph by Diana Davies. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Mattachine Society of New York Records. Copyright Diana Davies. Digital ID: 1582252
Located at 53 Christopher Street, the Stonewall Inn began as a tea house, Bonnie's Stone Wall, in 1930, and evolved into a restaurant. After a fire destroyed the interior in the early 1960s, the Stonewall was reopened by Fat Tony Lauria as a gay bar in 1967. Part of a network of Mafia-controlled, illegal gay clubs and after-hours joints in the Village (like the Bon Soir, the Tenth of Always, and Kooky's), the Stonewall was operated as a private club, rather than a publicly open bar, in order to evade the control of the State Liquor Authority. Every weekend young gay men paid $3 and signed the club register — often as Judy Garland or Donald Duck — to get into the Stonewall, drink watered-down liquor, and dance to the music of The Ronettes and The Shangri-Las. Despite the burnt interior, the dirty glasses, and the surly staff, the Stonewall — one of the few gay clubs in the Village where patrons could dance — drew a devoted young clientele. Many cross-dressed, wearing makeup or their own personal mix of men's and women's attire.

The police routinely raided the Stonewall, but the management, always mysteriously tipped off in advance, would turn up the lights to warn the crowd to stop any open displays of affection, slow dancing, or use of illicit drugs. According to most historians, the Stonewall's management bribed the police for protection, and the raids were merely for show. But on Tuesday, June 24, 1969, there was another kind of raid, organized by the NYPD's First Division, rather than the local Sixth Precinct. When the club was back up and running a few days later, the police decided to go in again on Friday, June 27, and shut it down for good.

The police were accustomed to handling a large gay crowd with only a handful of officers, but this night the raid went very differently. Rather than leave, the crowd gathered in front of the bar and waited for their friends to be released. When the police van came to take away those who had been arrested, the crowd fought back, forcing the police into the bar. The riot gathered force from onlookers, who turned on the barricaded bar with garbage cans and fire. The drag queens were said to have given the police both the fiercest resistance and a dose of humor, facing them down in a chorus line as they sang "We are the Stonewall Girls …" The crowd was controlled and dispersed in the early hours of Saturday morning, only to reemerge later that night as several thousand people took to the streets chanting "Gay Power!" and "Liberate Christopher Street!" Riots and demonstrations continued throughout the following week. In the end, the arrests and damage were minimal. What shocked both gays and the straight establishment was that gays had, for once, openly fought back.


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