It was the wee small hours of a Saturday morning, June 28, 1969. The police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Such raids were common, because the Stonewall Inn was a gay bar and cops rousted the patrons every few months for wanting to meet people with whom they could have sex. The Stonewall was owned by the Mafia, but they had no interest in stepping in to protect their patrons. This was just part of life even in sophisticated, cosmopolitan New York and homosexuals who went to bars would just have to get used to it.
But for whatever reason, the patrons of the Stonewall decided not to take it quietly that night and they fought back. In retrospect, many people consider this a turning point in the gay rights movement.
It was not a national story. I went to the library to check what my local papers, the Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle, reported on the incident. Nothing. No story on Saturday or Sunday or Monday. There were lots of riots back then. The Chronicle did mention in the Saturday edition that there were riots for the third night in a row in Newark, New Jersey, and even reported on riots in Buenos Aires and Naples. Both papers noted that on Friday, there was a large public memorial in New York for Judy Garland, who passed away earlier that week. Many people who write about the Stonewall uprising believe Garland's death was a contributing factor to the anger of the patrons that night.
In much the same way, Rosa Parks' arrest wasn't a national story, but it was the catalyst for the Montgomery bus boycott, which did grab national headlines. Gay pride marches and demonstrations began in New York, Chicago and San Francisco on the weekend of the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
Like many other movements of the disenfranchised in this country, the courts were instrumental in moving forward their demands for equal protection under the law. As unmarried couples began to enjoy some of the same rights as married couples by extension of the 14th Amendment, so gay unmarried couples who were willing to come out also were given those rights. In large cities, many corporations unwilling to lose valued employees extended benefits to unmarried partners both straight and gay.
But all this slow progress might easily have subsided except that the bigots, the vast majority of them proudly conservative, went for a bridge too far, the so-called Briggs Initiative in California. The proposition was put to the voters that any professed homosexual could be fired as a teacher from the public schools.
Anyone with two functioning brain cells could see this was an open invitation to widespread blackmail. While I call this a liberal victory, and President Jimmy Carter made it clear that he was against the initiative when he did not need to have an opinion at all, the person whose opposition to the Briggs Initiative was likely the last nail in the coffin was Ronald Reagan.
Score one point for men married to fag hags.
Again, I am hesitant to call this a liberal victory because of the lukewarm support the left has given this cause. Of course the churches railed against gays, but when I was a kid, even the "liberal" psychiatric community labeled homosexuality a mental disorder. The gay political movement survived being blamed for the scariest plague of modern times, HIV/AIDS, and it is still vilified by the right to this day. "New York liberal" is code for Jew, "San Francisco liberal" is code for gay and "Hollywood liberal" is code for both.
We stand now at a crossroads where laws against gay marriage may be struck down as unconstitutional. No longer will the majority get to decide at the ballot box if a minority is allowed rights. Once again, the Constitution may be interpreted as saying that bigots do not have a Constitutional right to not be offended and people who do no one harm may live their lives in peace and enjoy the fruits of liberty all Americans claim as their birthright.