On June 27th, 1969, seven officers from the Public Morals Section of the New York City Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village.
The raid sparked a three-day rebellion against the police—the largest and most sustained uprising among gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals to that point. And although it did not mark the beginning of New York’s LGBT movement—members of the Mattachine Society of New York (MSNY) and the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) had been fighting for civil rights for years when Stonewall took place—it did initiate a new wave of activism, one that differed markedly from the homophile movements that preceded it.
In the years following Stonewall, LGBT individuals organized on unprecedented levels, forging new forms of activism that would change the direction of the movement and the consciousness of a generation. New York City was central to this period of activism, giving birth not only to the first gay liberation group in the country—the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), organized a mere month after Stonewall—but also to myriad groups to follow, such as the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), Radicalesbians (RL),Third World Gay Revolution (TWGR), Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), The Effeminists, and many more.
This exhibit will focus on the strain of activism that dominated the gay political scene in New York City and across the country from 1969-1973: Gay Liberation. The movement that emerged out of Stonewall was unique in the emphasis it placed on empowering gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals to come out, be proud, and fight back against oppression. But the movement never coalesced around a dominant political philosophy or organizational strategy, and fierce debates—both within and among different groups—persisted throughout the 1970s. Additionally, activists splintered along race, class, and gender lines, with women, people of color, and transgender people breaking off from existing groups to organize around their own identities and struggle against their particular oppressions.
By examining this early period of activism in New York City in all of its complexity, this exhibit will shed light on a critical juncture in the LGBT movement—both its successes and shortcomings—and, in doing so, glimpse at what may yet be possible.