In honor of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, we celebrate the gay rights movement and the bar that started it all.
June is Pride Month, so SPEED UP on the sidewalks— we’re coming through! Your Poached resident gay is here to discuss the battles fought and the homes found by the LGBTQIA+ community in gay bars throughout history. Most notably, the Stonewall Inn bar and the uprisings there that launched a larger gay rights movement, and, ultimately, LGBTQIA+ Pride Month. “Let’s go, lesbians!”
Early Gay Days
The earliest recorded gay bar in the States, The Slide, opened in New York in 1880. It was met with an intense media backlash until it ended up closing its doors just months after opening. Of course, this wasn’t the end of gay bars; They continued to pop up briefly and with much resistance all over the country. A big win happened in the 1950s when San Francisco police tried to revoke the license of a popular gay bar, The Black Cat. In a decision that was significant for the time, the Supreme Court ruled that the police did not have legal cause.
As recently as the 1960s, it was illegal for homosexuals to simply gather in bars. Cops regularly raided bars suspected of “homosexual activity”. When gay bars first started popping up, a slew of laws was put into effect against “cross-dressing”. This essentially tried to make queerness illegal— During bar raids, patrons could be arrested for wearing less than three articles of clothing that traditionally reflected their gender assigned at birth. The poor souls that were escorted to the bathroom to do gender checks and these early rebellious gay bars paved the way for the famed Stonewall Inn.
The Mafia crime syndicate saw a financial opportunity to exploit this underserved community starved for a place to exist authentically. They purchased multiple bars in New York to create underground gay bars, one being the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. They bribed dirty cops to ignore health code violations (such as no running/clean water behind the bar and regularly overflowing toilets) and to be tipped off about potential raids.
On the particular night of the famous Stonewall raid, the mafia had not been tipped off as expected, and patrons were caught off guard. “[A cop] said something to one of the queens, and one of the queens screamed something back at him, and that’s where it all began. Cans were thrown. Windows were broken. The police called for reinforcement, and it got a little out of hand,” said activist Mark Segal, who eventually became one of the youngest members of the Gay Liberation Front.
Stormé DeLarverie was arrested and roughed up by cops. She was beaten with a baton for complaining her handcuffs were too tight. Bleeding from a head wound, Stormé looked to the crowd and asked “Why don’t you do something?” Many recall this being a turning point, and the moment the scene became explosive. Being the badass she was, Stormé owned starting the fight back against the police, matter-of-factly saying “The cop hit me, and I hit him back.” Her most famous quote on Stonewall, however, is:
“It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.”
The 1969 events of Stonewall were a long overdue result of the marginalization, suppression of authenticity, and exploitation of the LGBTQIA+ community over decades. The uprising lasted two days, got worldwide attention, and inspired many similar demonstrations all over the globe. Within the next two years, gay rights groups had been organized in every major city in America, Canada, Australia, and Europe.
Gays in Bars Today, Bars in Gays Today
Every June, on the anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings, we celebrate Pride Month. Pride is a time the community comes together and celebrates how far we have come in large part due to that night in Greenwich Village, and how much easier it is to exist today because of the actions of activists at bars past. We have better representation, rights, and visibility. Unlike in the past, many if not most gay bars are gay-owned. We can be amongst our peers while directly supporting our community. Bars are still a place of refuge for the gay and queer community, however, now they are more truly welcoming and non-exploitative environments where we don’t have to hide or worry. From the beginning and even in the danger they imposed, bars have served as a haven.
These comforts could easily escape us, however. With the recent court leak regarding Roe v. Wade, privacy laws are at stake. This means not only are “same-sex” sex and marriage at risk, but also contraception, interracial marriage, abortion, and even children’s rights in school. This affects all of us and should be kept in mind this Pride Month.
The gay bar is still something defiant and revolutionary as much as it is a beloved piece of nightlife. As fellow bar workers, I hope y’all will keep in mind that you benefit from our drinking problems this month and every month.