The Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 often are thought of as spark of the gay rights movement.
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Police often raided gay bars since they were often not granted liquor licenses and would arrest a few flamboyant customers. But on a June night in 1969, riots erupted as many Stonewall customers resisted arrest.
There were over 1,000 people involved in the week-long protests and riots. There are countless nameless rioters, but the authority and leaders are prominent. Here are three key players involved in the Stonewall riots:
Dick Leitsch was the executive director of the Mattachine Society of New York, a major gay rights group at the time. More importantly, Leitsch was the first gay journalist to write and give perspective about the Stonewall riots.
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In an article in the Atlantic,
he said “When it was raided, they fought for it. That, and the fact that they had nothing to lose other than the most tolerant and broadminded gay place in town, explains why the Stonewall riots were begun, led, and spearheaded by [drag] ‘queens.’”
Seymour Pine, the Deputy Police Inspector, led the eight-police raid. He later apologized for his role in the raid, saying he took the orders from his superiors, The New York Times
The Times also quoted him as having said “If what I did helped gay people, then I’m glad,” explaining that while there was police prejudice at the time, there was also ignorance.
At the time, most gay bars were owned by mafia members, exploiting and overcharging their patrons while bribing police to remain in business. Tony Lauria, or “Fat Tony,” was the owner of the Stonewall since 1966, according to PBS.
Tony and his employees would also blackmail wealthy, closeted customers. Watering down bootlegged drinks, overcharging, and serving the drinks in dirty glasses were all typical of the Stonewall at this time. But, customers knew they wouldn’t have any place to go without the mafia, so they accepted the conditions, PBS said.
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