Subsequent demonstrations were subsumed by the Stonewall commemorations.Activists were busy on the East Coast before Stonewall, too. C., LGBTQ veterans chose the Pentagon as their place to picket, making it onto national television with signs reading, “Homosexual citizens want to serve their country too.” Subsequent demonstrations targeted the White House and the offices of Federal agencies.It was not the first rebellion, but it was the first to be called “the first,” and that act of naming mattered.
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The story of how this particular night and this particular bar came to signify global gay rebellion is a story of how collective memory works and how social movements organize to commemorate their gains. For example, San Francisco activists mobilized in response to police raids on gay bars in the early 1960s, which came to a head during a raid on a New Year’s Eve ball in 1965 that eventually brought down the police commissioner.
This New Year’s Eve raid attracted wide media attention, garnered heterosexual support, and is credited with galvanizing local activists, but it was subsequently forgotten. In Los Angeles, the first national gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, was founded years earlier, in 1951, and spawned chapters in other cities around the country.
In his detailed history of the bar and those nights, the historian David Carter lists many: It was the only bar raid that prompted multiple nights of riots; it was the only raid that occurred in a neighborhood populated by lots of other LGBTQ people who might participate; and the bar was the city’s largest, located in a transportation hub surrounded by many public telephones that were used to alert media.
But Carter also notes that the riots were not inevitable, and were just a turning point in the United States’ burgeoning gay rights movement.
In fact it is conventional to date LGBTQ history into “before Stonewall” and “after Stonewall” periods—not just in the United States, but in Europe as well.
British activists can join Stonewall UK, for example, while pride parades in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are called “Christopher Street Day,” after the street in New York City on which the Stonewall Inn still sits.
But there were gay activists before that early morning of June 28, 1969, previous rebellions of LGBTQ people against police, earlier calls for “gay power,” and earlier riots.
What was different about Stonewall was that gay activists around the country were prepared to commemorate it publicly.
At a meeting in November of 1969, regional activists broke with the respectable image of the Philadelphia “Annual Reminder” and vowed to secure a parade permit on the anniversary of the raid on the Stonewall Inn, calling it Christopher Street Liberation Day.
These organizers reached out to groups in Chicago and Los Angeles who readily agreed to remember something that happened elsewhere, in part because it was one of the few acts of LGBTQ resistance to get widespread media coverage, including in national LGBTQ publications and the .