Shortly after 1 a.m. on June 28, 1969, New York police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a known gay bar. The event was not unusual — raids and persecution of gay patrons were common occurrences — but one thing was different that early morning in Greenwich Village: the patrons fought back and a riot erupted on Christopher Street.
LGBT advocate and journalist Mark Segal said the event was a defining moment for the gay community, which up until then had largely been forced into the shadows.
“It’s the fact that it was the counter-culture year of 1969. At that point in time you had black civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, rights for Latinos, and what I said, looking at this scene across the street from me was, ‘what about us? what about our rights?'” he told MetroFocus Host Rafael Pi Roman.
Segal would go on to found the Philadelphia Gay News, but back then he was a young man who had just moved from Philadelphia six weeks prior.
“I was an 18-year-old kid just out of high school and I did what any gay kid at that time did: move to the big city because that’s the only place we thought the gay people were. They didn’t exist. We were invisible,” he said.
Although the city was a known home for the gay community, Segal said only few places were welcoming. That included Christopher Street, which has a number of gay bars. That early morning in 1969, Segal happened to be at the Stonewall Inn.
“The lights flashed on, police came in. The first thing the police do is they harass the queens or the effeminate people or stereotypical people. They harassed and blackmailed the people who looked like they were businessmen,” he said.
Segal was carded and allowed outside, where he gathered with other patrons who managed to escape arrest. As more people filed outdoors and mostly just police remained inside, the crowd lobbed objects at the door and violence ensued. Segal said the event prompted further demonstrations in front of the Stonewall Inn, which united the gay community.
“It literally does mark the point where the gay rights struggle began to say ‘hey, we’re not just gonna sit back and plead for our rights, we’re going to demand to be equal citizens,'” he said.
Following Stonewall, Segal helped found the Gay Liberation Front, which over the next year created a gay youth organization to address bullying and suicide, the first transgender organization and established the first Gay Pride Parade that drew 15,000 attendees — a major jump from the roughly 100 people Segal says had been publicly gay since the early 1920s.
The U.S. Department of the Interior designated the Stonewall a national landmark in 1999 for “its significance in the area of gay rights,” and the feature film “Stonewall” released this year aimed to capture the historical event.
However, Segal said the movie got it wrong.
Segal chronicles his experience at Stonewall and fighting for equal rights in his new memoir, “And Then I Danced: Traveling The Road To LGBT Equality,” the title of which is a nod to his opportunity to dance with his partner at the White House. The activist joins us to share eyewitness account from that historic day, look ahead to the LGBT community’s next chapter and explain how legendary journalist Walter Cronkite became his mentor after Segal’s one-man protest on the news anchor’s evening broadcast.