Stonewall Riots

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Meet Bianca del Rio – a drag queen, season 6 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the ‘Joan Rivers of the drag world’. Bianca is one of my favorite drag queens; she uses hate-comedy and roasts everybody she sees which is very amusing – secretly I would like to be Bianca’s next victim. But as you might see, Bianca is really just a man named Roy in a dress and makeup on her face (I will use the pronoun ‘she’ as I will talk about Roy’s alter-ego and not Roy himself). Some people find this a ‘problematic’ idea: a man dressed as a woman (for entertainment purposes). But drag queens actually contributed to a very important and powerful movement which was a big event for the LGBT community; the Stonewall Riots.

Stonewall Riots

What were the Stonewall Riots exactly? It all started on an very early morning of June 28, 1969 at Stonewall Inn (Manhattan, New York City) with a police raid. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the LGBT community in the USA faced an anti-gay legal system and the Stonewall Inn was a gay bar located in Manhattan. As said, on that early morning the police decided to raid the Inn but it did not go as planned. A normal police raid in those days had the standard procedure of the line up the people, check their identification and verify the sex of the cross-dressers, resulting in men dressed as women being arrested. But that specific night, the people decided it was time to stand up and they rebelled. The gay men and women refused to identify themselves that night and, the cross-dresses refused to be taken by the officers. The police then decided to take everyone to the police station. As the men and women were being escorted by the police, a bystander shouted “Gay power!”, somebody else sang “We Shall Overcome” and it sparked the crowd leading into a growing and intensive hostility. People started rioting, including the cross-dressers, nowadays known as drag queens who led the rebellion to the raid.

Michael Fader, one of the men included in the crowd that night, said,

“We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration… Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us…. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.”

The legacy

The night of the Stonewall Riots changed the fate of the LGBT community forever; the struggle for equal rights changed drastically because of this movement. Both the big and little things changed for the gay men and women; they went from ‘homophiles’ to ‘homosexuals’ and the power and freedom they felt that night changed the attitude of the LGBT community to stand up for who they are. In 45 years the United States went from anti-gay legal systems to legalising gay marriage and the Stonewall Riots contributed to this journey of equal rights.

Therefore I want you to remember that the next time you see a man in a dress, think of the fact that 45 years ago men in dresses helped to revolutionize a whole community in the battle for equal rights. And personally, drag queens are just fabulous if you see them sissying that walk. Keep on going, Bianca.

Remember the movement.

By Rocher Koendjbiharie

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