2023 is the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, or, as they’re more commonly known, the Stonewall Riots. These were a series of demonstrations from the LGBTQ+ community against the police raids at the Greenwich Village club in 1969. The event was also the turning point of civil rights for the community’s liberation movement. This rebellion was only the beginning for a community that is fighting to this day to be fully represented, respected, and to live without fear in America. If you’re an ally or a member of the community, educating yourself on this momentous occasion is a great way to support and help your fellow people in their fight for their rights.
A Bit of Background
In 1969 homosexual solicitation was an illegal act in New York City and most other urban centers in the U.S. Gay bars, then, were places of refuge where gay men, lesbians, and other individuals who were considered “sexually suspect” could socialize in relative safety from public harassment. Many of those bars were, however, subject to regular police harassment.
One such particular bar was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 28, 1969, nine policemen entered the Stonewall Inn and arrested the employees for selling alcohol without a license. They also roughed up many of its patrons, cleared the bar, and—in accordance with a New York criminal statute that authorized the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing—took several people into custody.
Stonewall: Passivism No Longer Acceptable
Unlike other raids, this time, the people milling outside the bar did not retreat or scatter. Their anger was apparent and vocal as they watched bar patrons being forced into a police van. They began to jeer at and jostle the police, throwing bottles and debris at them. Accustomed to more passive behaviour, the policemen called for reinforcements and barricaded themselves inside the bar while some 400 people rioted outside. The police barricade was repeatedly breached, and the bar was set on fire. Police reinforcements arrived in time to extinguish the flames, and they eventually dispersed the crowd.
The riots outside the Stonewall Inn waxed and waned for the next five days. Many people consider the uprising a spontaneous protest against the perpetual police harassment and social discrimination suffered by a variety of sexual minorities in the 1960s. Although there had been other protests by gay groups, the Stonewall incident was perhaps the first time lesbians, gays, and transgender people saw the value in uniting behind a common cause. Occurring as it did in the context of the civil rights and feminist movements, the Stonewall riots became a galvanizing force.
Below are 6 amazing books for all ages to read about and educate themselves on the Stonewall Riots.
1. Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America by Martin B. Duberman
Fifty-something years after the riots, Stonewall remains a rare work that evokes with a human touch an event in history that still profoundly affects life today.
Professor Martin Duberman isn’t only renowned for his works of historical analysis, but he is also a gay activist with roots in the modern movement stretching back to the Stonewall era, making him an ideal choice to pen this comprehensive, one-volume history of the uprising.
In Stonewall, Duberman tells the full story of this pivotal moment in history. In order to bring focus to the complex and chaotic weeks and months surrounding the event, Duberman focuses on six diverse individuals—from the buttoned-up Ph.D. Foster Gunnison, Jr. to the riotous Sylvia Rivera, a genderqueer Latina drag queen—offering a necessary reminder that the thousands of people involved in the events of those nights came from many different backgrounds. Their stories combine to form an unforgettable portrait of the repression that led up to the riots, which culminates when they triumphantly participate in the first gay rights march of 1970, the roots of today’s pride marches.
2. The Stonewall Reader by The New York Public Library
With a forward by Edward White and collections edited together by the New York Public Library comes The Stonewall Reader, a collection of first accounts, diaries, periodic literature, and articles from LGBTQ magazines and newspapers that documented both the years leading up to and the years following the riots.
Media accounts from the time are featured, but the real highlights are found in personal narratives, memoir excerpts, and testimonies that offer insight into the feelings of people who found themselves facing a hopeful but uncertain future.
Most importantly, the anthology spotlights both iconic activists who were pivotal in the movement, such as Sylvia Rivera, co-founder of Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR), as well as forgotten figures like Ernestine Eckstein, one of the few out, African American lesbian activists in the 1960s. The anthology focuses on the events of 1969, the five years before, and the five years after. Jason Baumann, the NYPL coordinator of humanities and LGBTQ collections, has edited and introduced the volume to coincide with the NYPL exhibition he has curated on the Stonewall uprising and gay liberation movement of 1969.
3. The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman
On the 50th anniversary of Pride came this amazing middle grade-level book about the Stonewall uprising to educate young readers on this integral moment in history.
The author describes American gay history leading up to the Riots, the Riots themselves, and the aftermath, and includes her interviews of people involved or witnesses, including a woman who was ten at the time. Profusely illustrated, the book includes contemporary photos, newspaper clippings, and other period objects. A timely and necessary read, The Stonewall Riots, helps readers to understand the history and legacy of the LGBTQ+ movement.
Pitman includes new interviews with witnesses, including a woman who was only ten at the time, but its clever format makes this unique: each chapter focuses on a particular object, from physical artifacts like a police sergeant’s bullhorn or the Stonewall Inn’s busted jukebox; to slightly less tangible items such as photographs, news articles, and maps.
4. Love and Resistance: Out of the Closet into the Stonewall Era by Jason Baumann
This powerful collection—which captures the energy, humor, and humanity of the groundbreaking protests that surrounded the Stonewall Riots—celebrates the true diversity of this civil rights movement.
A preface, captions, and part introductions from curator Jason Baumann provide illuminating historical context. And an introduction from Roxane Gay, best-selling author of Hunger, speaks to the continued importance of these iconic photos of resistance.
A ragtag group of women protesting behind a police line in the rain. A face in a crowd holding a sign that says, “Hi Mom, Guess What!” at a gay rights rally. Two lovers kissing under a tree. These indelible images are among the thousands housed in the New York Public Library’s archive of photographs of the 1960s and ’70s LGBTQ history from photojournalists Kay Tobin Lahusen and Diana Davies. Lahusen is a pioneering photojournalist who captured pivotal moments in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Davies, in turn, is one of the most important photojournalists who documented gay, lesbian, and trans liberation, as well as civil rights, feminist, and antiwar movements.
5. Rainbow Revolutions: Power, Pride, and Protest in the Fight for Queer Rights by Jamie Lawson
Another book targeted toward middle school readers, Rainbow Revolutions is a beautifully illustrated and narrative story of the riots and the people of the movement.
Around one o’clock in the morning on June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York, sparking days of intense rioting. What happened at Stonewall sent shockwaves around the world and became a defining moment for the LGBTQ+ community.
From the impassioned speeches of bold activists Karl Ulrichs and Audre Lorde to the birth of Pride and queer pop culture, Rainbow Revolutions charts the dramatic rise of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and celebrates the courageous individuals who stood up and demanded recognition. This colorful book is filled with bold and beautiful illustrations by pop artist Eve Lloyd Knight.
6. The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America by Erin Cervini
From a young Harvard- and Cambridge-trained historian comes the secret history of the fight for gay rights that began a generation before Stonewall.
In 1957, Frank Kameny, a rising astronomer working for the U.S. Defense Department in Hawaii, received a summons to report immediately to Washington, D.C. The Pentagon had reason to believe he was a homosexual, and after a series of humiliating interviews, Kameny, like countless gay men and women before him, was promptly dismissed from his government job. Unlike many others, though, Kameny fought back.
Based on firsthand accounts, recently declassified FBI records, and forty thousand personal documents, Eric Cervini’s The Deviant’s War unfolds over the course of the 1960s, as the Mattachine Society of Washington, the group Kameny founded, became the first organization to protest the systematic persecution of gay federal employees. It traces the forgotten ties that bound gay rights to the Black Freedom Movement, the New Left, lesbian activism, and trans resistance. Above all, it is a story of America (and Washington) at a cultural and sexual crossroads; of shocking, byzantine public battles with Congress; of FBI informants; murder; betrayal; sex; love; and ultimately victory.
For more Pride Month book recommendations, read on here!