On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, attacking its gay and transgender customers (a common practice at the time). The bar patrons rioted, locking police inside the bar and continuing to fight back for three days.
Many people consider Stonewall to be the symbolic birthplace of the United States’ LGBT movement. And on Friday, Obama designated the historic New York City bar as the first national monument for LGBT rights.
This designation comes not only just before the anniversary of the raid—itself the inspiration for numerous Pride celebrations around the country—but also soon after the tragedy at the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida. A symbol of LGBT resistance to homophobic violence, Stonewall was one of the places where people gathered to hold vigils after the Orlando shooting. (Read “Orlando Strong: A Community United After Massacre.”)
The bar is an important landmark, but it wasn’t the only place where LGBT people fought for equality, nor the first time homophobia was challenged. Here are four other U.S. sites that tell of the struggle for LGBT rights.
The Henry Gerber House
In 1923, German immigrant Henry Gerber founded what is considered the first gay rights organization in the United States—the Society for Human Rights. The small group was located in Chicago, where it distributed a publication for gay people called Friendship and Freedom.
Police broke up the society after only eight months. Officers raided Gerber’s home and stole everything associated with the group, including the typewriter he used to work on Friendship and Freedom. Gerber went to trial three times and lost his job at the post office. Today, his apartment is a national historic landmark.
In 1966, the New York City chapter of the Mattachine Society—a gay rights organization—decided to challenge the New York Liquor Authority’s regulation against serving alcohol to gay people (police often used this as a pretext to raid LGBT bars). Borrowing a tactic from the civil rights movement, the chapter staged a “sip-in” at Julius’, a Greenwich bar.
The NYC chapter invited the press, and the press showed up. After ordering drinks at Julius’, the men of the Mattachine Society informed the bartender that they were “homosexuals”—and the bartender told them that he wasn’t allowed to serve them. Later, the chapter sued the New York Liquor Authority.
“They drew attention to the unequal treatment of gay people by these liquor regulations,” says Timothy Stewart-Winter, assistant professor of history at Rutgers University, Newark. “And there were similar lawsuits in other states at around the same time.
“In terms of getting mainstream media attention,” he says, it was “one of the first high-profile gay protests.” This year, the National Park Service added Julius’ to the National Register of Historic Places.
The 1966 riot at Gene Compton’s cafeteria in San Francisco, says Stewart-Winter, “was, in a lot of ways, a precursor to Stonewall.”
The 24-hour cafeteria was a popular hangout for drag queens and trans women, but the staff would sometimes call the police to make them leave. One night, a police officer attempted to throw out a drag queen, who retaliated by throwing coffee in his face. The first strike started a riot between the cafeteria and the police.
“It’s one of the earliest examples we have of queer people led by transgender folks fighting back against police harassment in a way that claimed space, and demanded a right to having spaces of their own, and insisting that the police not harass people,” Stewart-Winter says.
The Black Cat and Beyond
“In the second half of the 1960s, you have these scattered protests against police harassment in big cities,” Stewart-Winter says. A few months after the Compton’s cafeteria riot, LGBT people protested police violence at the Black Cat in Los Angeles.
On New Year’s Eve, undercover cops tore down the bar’s decorations, beat its customers, and arrested 14 people. Weeks later, people protested the LAPD’s actions in front of the Black Cat. The bar raid also inspired Richard Mitch and Bill Rau to create what would later become The Advocate. Today, the Black Cat is a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.
As for how we will continue to recognize LGBT achievements, Stewart-Winter speculates that “future commemorations are going to involve intersections between LGBT people and a whole bunch of movements, not just this movement per se.”
As an example, he points to Black Lives Matter.
“I think it’s notable that queer women—lesbian, bi, and trans women—have been very central to the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement,” he says. “I think those women’s contributions to that movement ultimately is going to take its place in the longer history of … LGBT folks challenging a status quo that is violent.”
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