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After years of persecution the police initited yet another raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village on the night of June 27, 1969. But this time something snapped in the collective minds of the patrons and they refused to be hauled out to the paddy wagons and began fighting back. The melee inside the bar was soon joined by hundreds outside the bar. Drag queens in heels led a tactical charge that resulted in the police themselves being locked in the bar they were there to raid. Soon after all hell broke loose as support police were called to the scene only to be met by thouands of gays ready for a fight and a full scale riot ensued. The scene repeated itself to one degree or another for another three nights. The police soon realized that the “queeers” were capable of fighting back and future NYPD police persecution lessened- at least to some degree.

More importantly it was the news of the event that was spreading across the country that ignited a willingness in LGBT secret groups, enclaves and gay neigborhoods as far as Califonia to say enough is enough as well. The beginining of the Gay Liberation Movement was born.

The importance of Stonewall as the flashpoint for the fight against persecution and descrimination against the LGBT community cannot be overemphasized. If  it wasn’t for Stonewall we wouldn’t be accepted to the level we are today.  That is what needs to be remembered on this 50th Anniversary of those riots that took place in June 1969.

The “raided premises” sign just inside the door at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. A 1969 police raid here led to the Stonewall riots, one of the most important events in the history of LGBT rights (and the history of the United States). This picture was taken on pride weekend in 2016, the day after President Obama announced the Stonewall National Monument, and less than two weeks after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando (the exterior of the Stonewall Inn is covered with tributes/decorations memorializing the shooting.

Courtesy of author Rhododendrites CC Comons Share License

An LGBT History Overview 

As years progress many people today may be hard pressed to recall the original meaning of the term “gay”. Historically the term is most likely derived from “gai”- an old French word dating as far back as the 12th Century and used to note someone happy and full of mirth. It isn’t until the late 1800’s that the term evolved to denote any type of sexual behavior. During this period it was evolving into a reference to female prostitutes, or (ironically) men who slept with female prostitutes. During the early periods of the 20th century the term’s sexual connotation became reinforced and most likely became greatly popularized during the period of World War I.  It was soon after this, during the 1920s, that the term “gay” was being expanded to also include men who had sex with other men. It took another World War and the years immediately following it for the term to become more associated with homosexual activity. Soon after, during the 1950s, homosexuals themselves started to using it as a self-defining term, seeing it as much more attractive label than the common slang or demeaning terms of ‘homo”, “queer” or “fag”.

By the end of the 1960’s “Gay” started being a recognized term in the social mainstream, and was greatly propelled to common usage soon after 1969, the Year of the Stonewall Riots. (see the History Timeline) It is traditionally used to define homosexual males but in many circles can also be an umbrella term to define homosexual females, or lesbians, as well.  In the most recent generation “Gay” has also become one of the key terms which denotes the cultural subset more specifically referred to as  “LGBT” (or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender). It is an interesting side note that in the late 1970’s and 1980’s some youth cultures started evolving “Gay” to denote someone as silly, stupid or ignorant, whether the person was a homosexual or not.  However, it seems that modern society itself has evolved to accepting the term “Gay” as denoting just another cultural subset.  Thegayexperience.com presents a collection of important people and events that helped shape and evolve the Gay culture we know today. Many of these you may already be aware of, others not. We think you’ll find the historic timeline section helpful in understanding that being a homosexual in the ancient world did not  have the stigma applied to it as in recent times- and why Gay Pride today means more than just a word. Enjoy our highlights of LGBT history!

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