Pride Month - Remembering Stonewall

As Pride Month draws to a close, we look back at the place where the movement began – the Stonewall riots. Here Oliver, one of our Health Improvement Coordinators, shares his reflections on the legacy of the riots, along with some podcast recommendations for those who want to learn more. 

It’s now over 50 years since the Stonewall riots. In some senses it feels like another era, but it’s worth remembering that the flashpoint that kick-started the Pride movement is still a living memory for many.  

In 1960s New York, a hostile environment was being fostered against the city’s gay and lesbian population.  

Licencing laws were being interpreted in a way designed to discriminate. Venues could be closed down for the ‘disorderly’ act of serving alcohol to gays and lesbians. Dancing with someone of the same sex was considered a ‘lewd’ offence. People were being arrested for wearing fewer than three items of clothing deemed appropriate for their perceived gender.  

This discrimination forced gay people into mafia-run bars, which were frequently raided by police.  One such raid, at the Stonewall Inn on 28 June 1969, would become a watershed moment.

In the week that followed, the community fought back, protesting against the police brutality and intolerance of gay, queer and trans people. Queer people felt empowered to take to the streets, having had enough of the increasing violence against them from state authorities. The crowd forming outside the Stonewall on the fateful night actually pushed the police back into the Stonewall Inn to shelter from the crowds. 

The Stonewall riots have been claimed as the start of the modern gay rights movement, with the first pride marches taking place across the USA to mark the first anniversary. A year later, marches were organised around the world, including London. These events were a push back against the belief that gay people should just assimilate into society and remain private. They were a rallying call for LGBTI+ people to take up their own space and push for rights, liberation and acceptance in society.  

Here at SX, we cherish the history of our movement, both here in Scotland and around the world. We celebrate the progress that has been made by our queer siblings and elders from Stonewall to the present, as part of a wider push for change that continues to this day.   

Sadly, it’s not something that’s taught in schools, and many people in our community maybe don’t know the history behind the famous name. We’ve picked out some podcast recommendations below where you can learn about this historic moment in queer history, and other events that didn’t make it into your history lessons.

We'd also recommend you check out OurStory Scotland, where you'll find oral history archives dedicated to Scotland's LGBT+ history.

SX recommends Top 5:

1. Before Stonewall (NPR - 40 mins):  

Fifty years ago, a gay bar in New York City called The Stonewall Inn was raided by police, and what followed were days of rebellion where protesters and police clashed. Today, that event is seen as the start of the gay civil rights movement, but gay activists and organizations were standing up to harassment and discrimination years before. On this episode, the fight for gay rights before Stonewall.

2. STAR House STAR People (One From the Vaults – 30 min): Join us as we take a look at the early lives of the patron saints of the trans movement, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson! We'll examine their beginnings, take a look at what might have gone down at Stonewall, and follow them up to the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade!

3. Afroqueer

(Season 1 Ep 1: Pride and Prejudice in Johannesburg (19 mins) Afroqueer is a podcast telling the stories of Queer Africans from across the continent and diaspora. In this first episode, they look at Johannesburg Pride, questioning whether an event that was born out of resistance has come to evolve into a capitalist, middle class, mostly-white affair.

Season 1 Ep 2: The Cost of Pride (10 mins) 
Uganda held its first pride in 2012, but there hasn’t been one since 2016 when police raided the event. This is an important podcast documenting the oral history and experience of this police raid. SX stand with and in solidarity for those in Uganda who cannot live freely and in safety.  

4. Black Trans Lives Matter (WNYC Studios - 19 mins)

Broadcast a year ago in the height of Black Lives Matter protests in America, this podcast explores what a truly inclusive Black Lives Matter movement means, getting back to the roots of Pride. It features Imara Jones, an award-winning journalist, and the creator of TransLash, a multi-episode series about what it is like to be transgender, especially a trans person of colour, at a time of social backlash.   

 5. Witness History – LGBT+ History (BBC World Service): A collection of short, 9-minute historical LGBTQ+ stories, ranging from Stonewall riots, Gentleman Jack, LGBT activism in Côte d’Ivoire and marriage in China.