NEW YORK – In the early hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by New York City police, sparking five nights of violent protest and 50 years of LGBTQ civil rights advocacy in the U.S.
Today, the gay club located in Greenwich Village still stands as a monument for LGBTQ advocacy, and the “revolution,” as many of the veterans call it, continues.
Five veterans of the Stonewall Uprising gathered for a conversation about the future of LGBTQ community activism as part of a partnership between Airbnb’s “We Belong Together” campaign and SAGE, the world’s oldest organization supporting LGBTQ elders.
For some, this is their first time returning to the city since 1969. Much of the Airbnb conversation centered on what each remembered from the five nights of Stonewall.
Stonewall and gay rights at 50: Cultural transformation but a tough political road
Charles Valentino had just turned 17 years old, and remembers that the night smelled like “a mixture of the Hudson river, smoke and booze”. He ran toward the Stonewall Inn after hearing about the police raid, passing drag queens kicking their heels as they were thrown into the patty wagon.
After that night, he went home.
“I didn’t know that it continued. Little did I know that it was ground zero, and I witnessed that.”
Now 67 years old, Valentino is remembered as the original singer of “I was born this way,” a seminal anthem for the gay rights six years after the Stonewall riots. The song was most recently popularized by Lady Gaga in 2011.
Others from that night also went on to be LGBTQ activists, including Mark Segal, the Rev. Magora Kennedy, Joel Snyder and Soraya Santiago, the first trans woman to have gender-reassignment surgery in Puerto Rico. All of them are back to march in the WorldPride parade on June 30.
“Gay people were invisible,” Mark Segal, the publisher of the Philidelphia Gay News said of the time before Stonewall. “We weren’t in the newspapers, we weren’t in the magazines…the reason that you ended up at Stonewall, is because it was the only place you could be yourself.”
In 2016, President Barack Obama designated 7.7 acres along Christopher Street in Greenwich Village the Stonewall National Monument, the first national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights. Stonewall Forever, an interactive monument sponsored by Google, was created earlier this month as its digital extension so veterans and LGBTQ activists can share their stories online.
Today, Valentino says the best way to continue the movement is to love everyone, whether they be “straight, gay, white, black or yellow” to make sure that the change sparked by Stonewall continues.