Stonewall and the origins of Pride

Jun 26, 2022

In one of the segments of this month’s Belonging concert, we celebrate Pride and honor some of the brave proponents of change who helped launch the gay liberation movement, including Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, and Stormé DeLarverie. Christina Wilson, Puget Soundworks Board President (pictured), wrote and performed this Pride origins piece in the concert:

The Stonewall Riots, also called the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and violent clashes with law enforcement outside the bar on Christopher Street, in neighboring streets and in nearby Christopher Park. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.

Tonight we would like to express our gratitude to three brave proponents of change.

Marsha P. Johnson — a transgender activist and self-identified drag queen — was one of the first drag queens to go to the Stonewall Inn, after they began allowing women and drag queens inside; it was previously a bar for only gay men. The clashes with police would result in a series of spontaneous demonstrations and marches through the gay neighborhoods of Greenwich Village for roughly a week afterwards.

Marsha P.Johnson has been named, as being one of the individuals known to have been in the vanguard” of the pushback against the police at the uprising. Johnson denied starting the uprising. In 1987, Johnson recalled arriving at around “2:00 [that morning]”, that “the riots had already started” by that time and that the Stonewall building “was on fire” after police set it on fire.

A friend of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, was also there that evening. Sylvia Rivera said in an interview in 2001 that while she, herself, did not throw the first Molotov cocktail at the police (a long-enduring myth), she did throw the second. For six nights, the 17-year-old Rivera refused to go home or to sleep, saying “I’m not missing a minute of this—it’s the revolution!”

The Stonewall Inn uprising was also a turning point in the visibility of the gay rights movement. The first pride parades started in 1970, but Rivera and other transgender people were discriminated against and discouraged from participating. In 1973, Rivera participated in the Gay Pride Parade but was not allowed to speak, despite the amount of work and advocacy she had done. She grabbed the microphone anyway, telling the spectators and other marchers, “If it wasn’t for the drag queen, there would be no gay liberation movement. We’re the front-liners.” She was booed off the stage.

Another participant there that evening was Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. Major is a veteran of the infamous Stonewall Riots, a former sex worker, and a survivor of Dannemora Prison and Bellevue Hospital’s “queen tank.” Her global legacy of activism is rooted in her own experiences, and she continues her work to uplift transgender women of color, particularly those who have survived incarceration and police brutality.

Finally, Stormé DeLarverie, a butch lesbian, played an integral role in encouraging others to join the resistance by standing up to law enforcement even in the face of violence. “Why don’t you guys do something?” she yelled as she was handcuffed, hit on the head with a baton and thrown into a police wagon.  

Some people refer to the Stonewall incident as the Stonewall Riots. Stormé had a very different, possibly more accurate, perspective on this  historical event. 

DeLarverie was very clear that “riot” is a misleading description:

“It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.”

There’s still time to experience one of our online Belonging concerts. Join us on June 25, 26, or 29. Sliding scale tickets are available.