It was 50 years ago today that bar patrons at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan clashed with police in an effort to stand their ground.
The Greenwich Village bar, like the majority of the city’s gay bars and clubs, was owned and operated by the New York Mafia. Seeing opportunity in establishments which catered to the gay population, the Genovese crime family controlled most of the gay bars in the Village, the burgeoning center of the city’s gay community in the 1960’s. Genovese family member “Fat Tony” Lauria bought the Stonewall Inn, revamping and reopening it as a gay bar.
Although homosexuality was legal New York, the State Liquor Authority (SLA) would often refuse to issue liquor licenses to gay bars or suspend or revoke licenses for “indecent conduct.” Establishments that remained open were often raided by the police.
Lauria bribed the Sixth Police Precinct with $1,200 a month to look the other way from the activities at the Stonewall. To get around the liquor license laws, the Lauria operated the establishment under the façade of a private “bottle club” which did not require a liquor license. The alcohol served was believed to be stolen or bootlegged, and was watered-down but sold at top-shelf prices.
In the early hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar at 53 Christopher Street in New York City, and bar employees were arrested for serving liquor without a license and other violations. However, when four patrons were forced into the police van, a crowd of onlookers and bar patrons began throwing bottles at the police. Fed up with feeling targeted and ostracized, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons began rioting.
This event and further riots and protests in the following nights were to be the defining moment in the modern LGBT Rights Movement. Back in 1969, the event was the motivation behind the organization of the first pride march and, later, LGBT pride marches on a wider public scale.