Friday June 24, 2016

What the Stonewall Inn means to the LGBT civil rights movement

A man lights a candle at a memorial outside The Stonewall Inn following the shooting massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016.

A man lights a candle at a memorial outside The Stonewall Inn following the shooting massacre at Orlando's Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016.

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It's been nearly 50 years since the police raid that rocked the Stonewall Inn in New York City on June 28, 1969. And on Friday, President Barack Obama designated the site as a national historic monument to the ongoing struggle for LGBT rights.

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The Stonewall Inn uprising that began in New York City on June 28, 1969 has been an iconic symbol of the gay civil rights movement for decades. (Leonard Fink/CBS News)

It's about time for such a monument. - LGBT historian and author Lillian Faderman

For LGBT historian Lillian Faderman, Stonewall's designation as a national monument represents a powerful — if overdue — statement from the federal government. 

"We've come such a tremendously long way since I came out in the 1950s," Faderman says. 

"It's about time for such a monument."  

The 1969 raids at the Stonewall Inn sparked a massive, six-day uprising and launched the modern gay civil rights movement. The riots inspired the formation of the ground-breaking Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance — as well as the annual Pride Parade march that takes place each June around the world.

LGBT Heritage

The modern-day Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village occupies part of the original Stonewall site, which currently also houses a nail salon. (Richard Drew/The Associated Press)

Philip Bockman was 27 at the time of the Stonewall raids, and lived nearby. He took part in the uprising and remembers it vividly.

"I heard gunshots, I heard people screaming, and then I saw people pouring into the streets," Bockman recalls. "It felt like it was our chance to push back."

"Stonewall became this symbol of feeling empowered — of suddenly feeling that all these people were together."

Stonewall became this symbol of feeling empowered — of suddenly feeling that all these people were together. - Philip Bockman

The Stonewall Inn has been a symbolic meeting place for the LGBT community ever since. Earlier this month, thousands gathered outside the Inn to hold a vigil in the aftermath of the Orlando shootings at the Pulse nightclub.

Brad Hoylman

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman and throngs of Americans celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act at the Stonewall Inn in 2013. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

David Carter, the author of "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution," has spent the past decade fighting for political recognition of the gay civil rights movement.

"If there had been a monument like this when I was 16-and-a-half years old, my entire life would have been different," Carter says. "I would have had the validation that my feelings, that my being, was good. [That] there was nothing wrong with it; there was nothing to apologize for; that I could live an honourable life, acting on my feelings."

Listen to our Day 6 documentary to hear David Carter, Lillian Faderman and Philip Bockman reflect on the meaning of the Stonewall Uprisings and how they are remembered, 47 years later.