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Sun Jun 23, 2019, 09:57 AM

Stonewall at 50 - The riot that changed America's gay rights movement forever

On a hot and humid summer’s evening in New York City in 1969, the tranquility of a small park in Queens was disturbed by jarring sounds of sawing and chopping and the thump of trees toppling to the ground.

Local residents were angry that gay men were meeting in the park at night under a lovers’ lane of trees. The men weren’t disturbing anybody – the park was otherwise deserted; nor were they harming each other – their trysts were fully consensual.

But that didn’t stop the locals forming vigilante groups. Growing at times to 40 strong, they prowled the park like packs of hunting dogs in search of prey. When they found a gay man hiding behind a tree they beamed powerful lights into his face. Run and never come back, they said, or we will beat you to a pulp.

When that failed, the self-appointed defenders of morality took things to the next level. They went home, grabbed saws and axes, and on that sticky summer evening, under the approving eye of local police, they chopped down all the trees.

The strange incident was one of the more surreal manifestations of a country that in June 1969 remained trapped in homophobia’s grip. A week after the trees were felled in Queens, about 10 miles away in Manhattan a thread snapped in the social fabric of the city.

They’d had enough of hiding in the shadows of trees and living a lie. Of the hate.
Enough was enough. Gay men had had enough of the vigilante threats, enough of the slurs, enough of the random violence in the street and the endless police harassment. Enough of the hate.

On 28 June 1969, in Greenwich Village, in a bar called the Stonewall Inn, gay men and their trans and lesbian peers would strike a blow for equality that would change the face of America and the world.


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