A Look Into The Stonewall Riots, And Their Echo In India And The World

June 2018 will mark the 48th official Pride Parade event in the United States of America. The queer community over the world has come strides in the last five decades, and while Pride itself is about celebrating queer lives and acknowledging their individual trials, it is also a nod to the night where it all began.

The Stonewall Riots 

1969. Queer bodies existed out of mainstream society’s dialogue in the USA. The modern Gay Liberation Movement had not begun and it’s not hard to imagine a time where Homosexuality was illegal. In such times of queer gatherings and establishments being prohibited under law, a part of New York cropped its own insidious defiance with an exclusive Gay bar run infamously by the ‘mafia’.

In the early morning hours of June 28th, 1969, nine policemen entered the Stonewall bar, arrested the employees for reportedly selling alcohol without a license, harassed many of its patrons, cleared the bar, and, in accordance with a New York law that authorized the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing, took several people into custody. Such homophobic police raids were common, but this time, the queers fought back. As officers hauled folks out of the premises and into vans, a crowd started to gather on the street, jeering and mocking the officers for being petty and cruel. And then, many witnesses recall, someone threw a brick.

And stones and shot glasses. Then someone set the Inn on fire.
The riot that night was the language for the voices of those left unheard.

“Say it clear, say it loud. Gay is good, gay is proud.”

The riot at Stonewall waxed and weaned for the next few days but it got word out that something was brewing. The movement it sparked is now one of the most important mobilisations for human rights in the 20th century. Its immediate consequence was the people who took to the streets of New York to bring light to the lives of the LGBTQ+ folk of the city, in a way cementing the means for all future Pride Marches. This march, veterans recall, did not have floats, or pomp and celebration. It was conscious retaliation to the very fabric of society that excluded people based on their sexuality and gender identification.

Photo Credit: Johnson with her friend and fellow activist Sylvia Rivera outside City Hall in New York at a rally for gay rights around April 1973. Diana Davies via NewYork Public Library. 

Known as the ‘Mother of Pride’ for her work in coordinating the rally and then the Christopher Street Liberation Day March to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Brenda Howard, a bisexual feminist, was the force behind the Pride movement, now spread to the world.

Photo Credit: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera at-Gay Pride Parade 1973 © Leonard Fink

Not only in the US, the spontaneous riots at Stonewall galvanised Gay, Lesbian and Non-binary folk across continents to fight for one common cause against systemic brutality and social exclusion. On the first anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion in June 1970, the first official gay pride march was held in Manhattan and since then, millions of LGBT Pride marches, parades, picnics, parties and festivals have taken place, with June being declared the International LGBT Pride Month in honour of Stonewall.

Pride in India

Thousands of miles to the East, many Asian countries like India, dealing with their own systemic oppression of sexual minorities, did not see immediate and visible impact of a mostly white centric gay liberation movement in the United States. The template was set, and queer folk in the subcontinent needed just a spark. India’s first pride was held at Kolkata in 1999 with just about 15 people. Before them, the queer vocabulary and assertion of the West had slowly started to make its way into the country’s dialogue with activist and journalist Ashok Kavi Row penning what is arguably the first coming out story of independent and modern India. His narrative, explaining for the first time the meaning of the word “gay,” was published in a magazine called Savvy.

Today, most major cities of India have had their own versions of Pride in their own ways, standing against every law or social convention that may come in their way.

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