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Stonewall, June 28, 1969:

Raid draws crowd and temperature rises

Lavender & red, part 64

Published May 31, 2006 10:20 PM

The cops who raided the Stonewall bar on June 28, 1969, began letting some of the customers leave one at a time, a slow ordeal. Historian Martin Duberman reports that transgender Stonewall combatant Sylvia Rivera later told him that patrons were “released after their IDs had been checked and their attire deemed ‘appropriate’ to their gender—a process accompanied, as in Sylvia’s case, by derisive, ugly police banter.” (Stonewall)

The police cruisers parked outside the Stonewall Inn in the heart of Greenwich Village on that hot, muggy night began drawing a crowd. Many of those the police had released from the bar also chose to stay outside. As each person emerged from the Stonewall, the crowd outside cheered them. Some 200 had been inside that night.

Danny Garvin, who arrived at the Stonewall that night as the raid was already under way, estimated the early crowd on the pavement outside at 100-150.

Village Voice reporters Lucian Truscott and Howard Smith, who said they were working late-night hours at the newspaper’s Seventh Avenue office, saw the police activity from the windows and hurried to the scene.

Their coverage of the crowd was not sympathetic, but it does reveal the gender expression, displays of defiance and sharp-edged in-your-face attitude of those who had been trapped inside the bar that night, and those who chose to remain and mass outside.

Truscott wrote; “Wrists were limp, hair was primped, and reactions to the applause were classic. ‘I gave them the gay power bit, and they loved it, girls.’”

Smith described the crowd outside as “prancing high and jubilant.”

Duberman and historian David Carter add more detail.

Carter wrote, “As one young man swished by the detective posted at the door, he tossed the classic come-on line at him: ‘Hello there, fella!’” (“Stonewall: The riots that sparked the gay revolution”)

“Some of the campier patrons,” Duberman noted, “emerging one by one from the Stonewall to find an unexpected crowd, took the opportunity to strike their instant poses, starlet style, while the onlookers whistled and shouted their applause-meter ratings.”

These were acts of courage in front of the police by those who knew that same-sex love was illegal in New York state—and every other state in the United States except Illinois. They knew that anyone not wearing three pieces of “gender appropriate” clothing was subject to arrest. And they knew that police beatings, rape and sexual humiliation—acts of torture—invariably followed arrest.

In 1969 these laws on the books were not abstract and long forgotten. They were actively prosecuted—and the crowd knew it. Police raids constantly threatened all lesbian/gay/trans social meeting places—from bars to cruising areas in the parks and along the piers.

In the last three weeks of June 1969 alone, the New York Police Department raided five popular gay bars. Cops shut down three of them for good: the Checkerboard, the Tele-Star and the Sewer. (Carter)

‘This night was different’

Voice reporter Smith noticed, according to Carter, “that the police handled the exiting patrons roughly, now hurrying one out quicker than he could comfortably move, now giving another a parting kick.”

Onlooker Danny Garvin recalled the angry reaction: “It started getting ugly. You had attitude: ‘Don’t touch me!,’ which then would ignite the crowd: ‘Go get ‘em!’ (Carter)

The crowd continued to swell. More and more people were being released from the Stonewall and staying. Word of the raid spread on the streets of the Village. Some onlookers called their friends from pay phones and told them what was happening. People who had plan ned to spend their evening at the Stonewall were still showing up.

Those massed outside the bar reportedly grew quiet as a police wagon pulled up and parked on the sidewalk in front of the Stonewall.

Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine ordered his police squad to load up the prisoners and take them to the Sixth Precinct Station. Pine later said: “This presumably should have been the end of the situation, because the raid was already over. Now, all we had to do was put them in the patrol wagon.”

But, he added: “The crowd had grown to 10 times the size: it was really frightening.

“So many showed up immediately, it was as if a signal were given. And that was the unusual thing because usually, when we went to work, everybody disappeared. They were glad to get away. But this night was different. Instead of the homosexuals slinking off, they remained there, and their friends came, and it was a real meeting of homosexuals.” (Carter)

Next: All hell breaks loose.

Email: lfeinberg@workers.org