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The Stonewall Riots and the Progress of the LGBT Movement  

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On June 27, 1969, a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City resulted in rioting by more than 400 people in the streets outside the inn. The raid is said to have been due to the illegal sale of alcohol, but today it is widely known to have been a tactic of intimidation born of fear and prejudice against the LGBT community. The decades following what has come to be known as the Stonewall riots, have been a constant battle of ideals and politics in order for members of the LGBT community to obtain the same rights as their families, friends, and neighbors. Although there were several events before and after that played a role, the Stonewall Riots were the catalyst to the civil rights movement for the LGBT community that paved the way for LGBT individuals to obtain the right to marry the one they love. The tumultuous night of June 27, 1969 as police and rioters clashed, marked a turning point for the LGBT community. The injustices of law enforcement to the marginalized community was not ignored but was confronted with violence and rebuttal. This signaled a beginning of a movement.

Proof of this movement brewing is shown by John Darnton (1973), as he describes the thousands of individuals that marched down Manhattan streets on June 25, 1973. With smiles and excitement these individuals chanted the slogan, “Out of the closets and into the streets”. They were commemorating the Stonewall riots as the moment in history that the LGBT community refused to live in the shadows. This source is very important because it shows that what happened at the Stonewall Inn was the beginning of a movement that continued to last even through present times. Prior to 1969, there were few if any laws or ordinances on city books protecting members of the LGBT community. Today there are laws protecting these same individuals in many states and most major cities, but even in 1974, progress was being made. Judith Cummings (1974) shares examples of state legislatures and city councils adding protections to LGBT individuals. Key examples were anti-discrimination ordinances being approved in Columbus, Ohio; Seattle, Washington; East Lansing, Mich.; and Berkeley, CA.

This is fundamental because it shows that when a few individuals stand up for what is right, and continue to do so year after year, people start to recognize the importance of their efforts and change begins to take place. From anti-discrimination ordinances, fast forward over forty years and the largest fruits of the labors stemming from the Stonewall Riots was finally achieved. The right to marry was extended to all American citizens, regardless of sexual identity and orientation. According to Angela Glosser and Nicole Weller (2016), in their journal article, The Look of Pride: Examining the Social Movements of Stonewall, Windsor, and Obergefell, “The opportunities afforded him by the swing toward the majority of society favoring same-sex marriage, and a Supreme Court that finally had enough justices to rule on the side of equality, did not exist back in 1969.” This source shows that as a result of the Stonewall Riots, the sway of public opinion and a favorable Supreme Court allowed for equality that the LGBT and their allies had been trying to achieve, forty years in the making.

The complexity of all these events can only be summarized in essay format and would require innumerous hours of research and thousands of pages of text to fully explore and develop. Each aspect that has been discussed in this essay has several underlying factors and areas of development in order to paint a larger picture of how events transpired. Such an exploration would leave much to be desired, considering the continual development and growth of the LGBT movement into the next decade. Adding to the complexity are the feelings and emotions of each member of the LGBT community, all of which are as unique as snowflakes and as measurable as grains of sand by the sea. Maybe one day we can look back and fully understand the events of the last forty years, but for now, we must look to the future and ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. The historical event of Stonewall is important to me personally as a member of the LGBT community.  I chose the topic because my life has been changed and transformed for the better by those people who have sacrificed time and, in many cases, their well-being to help give me access to the rights I have today.

I had heard of the Stonewall riots but was unaware of how big of an effect they had on the progress made for the LGBT community, especially the path to obtaining the right to marry. My historical research has changed the way I view the event because I now know that the process lasted more than 40 years and included members and advocates of the LGBT community who despised the way they were being treated. There are several ways a historian may pursue the growth of the LGBT community with a more complex analysis. First, the historian would analyze other events that occurred during the same time period as the Stonewall riots that may not have been as famous, but still impacted the beginning of the civil rights movement for the LGBT community. Second, the historian could research the progress made on a state-by-state basis to determine if a state other than New York had a greater impact on LGBT rights. Lastly, a historian may research deeper into the way politics influenced the progression, and at times hindered, the process.

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