Greenwich Village was in a festive mood last week, which, following a freshly endorsed right to marry, culminated Sunday with more than 20,000 people participating in the city’s gay pride parade and hundreds of thousands more spectators joining in the rainbow-colored cheer.
Much of the merrymaking took place in front of the Stonewall Inn, the iconic brick-clad bar on Christopher Street near Seventh Avenue that is often called the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.
On Sunday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo officiated at the marriage between David Contreras Turley, 36, who worked as part of the coalition to pass the marriage equality law in New York State, and Peter Thiede, 35, a UBS analyst.
It happened on the spot where, nearly 46 years to the day, a police raid of the Stonewall Inn ignited days of resistance and rioting that came to be called the Stonewall Rebellion, widely considered to be the catalyst that set the national LGBT rights movement in motion.
Earlier in the week, three days before the Supreme Court said same-sex couples have the right to marry anywhere in the United States, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission recognized that lineage and designated the Stonewall Inn as a city landmark.
LGBT activists, particularly those who participated in the original uprising in 1969, were simultaneously awed and reflective.
“I think it’s a great thing,” says Joan Sobel, a veteran of the Stonewall Uprising. “They should keep it forever as a reminder of what happened, so younger generations will know.”
Established in 1967 and operated by the mob, the inn quickly became renowned as one of the only establishments in the city that catered to LGBT customers. Sobel recalls that the inn was the site of several police raids over the years.
“The cops were just having a free-for-all,” she said. “Eventually, we just got disgusted, which is understandable. We were just trying to relax and we got harassed for it.”
On June 28, 1969, Sobel and the rest of the Stonewall patrons decided that enough was enough. A police raid triggered a series of violent retaliations from LGBT protestors.
“Back when it was happening, I never thought that the city would recognize us one day,” said David V. Bermudez, another veteran of the Stonewall Uprising. “We didn’t do it for fame; we just had enough, we fought back, and now we’re being commemorated for it. They even have a plaque for us; it’s beautiful.”
But both Sobel and Bermudez were quick to point out that, as activists, their work was far from over.
“We’re not done yet,” said Bermudez. “Some of us still risk losing our jobs for being gay. I mean, before, we didn’t have any rights at all. So what we have now is a blessing, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Sobel concurs that, for what it’s worth, the country is far more progressive than in 1969. “Back then, we were all in the closet,” she said. “Nobody spoke. Maybe things are easier now because people are talking, but there’s still a lot of prejudice we have to face.”
In 1999, the Stonewall earned a spot on the State and National Registers of Historic Places for its historical significance in the context of the civil rights movement.
In early 2014, the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation began to campaign to upgrade the Stonewall Inn’s status from historic site to city landmark, which would grant it a greater degree of protection and preservation. The Stonewall Inn is the first building in the city to be landmarked solely on the basis of its connection to the LGBT civil rights movement.
In early 2014, the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation began to campaign for landmarks designation, which would offer the site a greater degree of protection.
Andrew Bergman, the society’s executive director, told the commission that “few sites anywhere in New York have the international resonance of Stonewall.”
Landmarks designation would ensure preservation of the building, “which is so inextricably linked to the events of June 1969 that transformed our city, our country and our society,” he said.
Alterations, reconstruction, demolition or new construction affecting the Stonewall must now be approved by the commission before it can go ahead. The Stonewall Inn is the first building in the city to be landmarked solely on the basis of its connection to the LGBT civil rights movement. Bergman said several other sites across the city deserve landmark designation on that merit, including Julius’ Bar, on 159 West 10th St., and the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse, at 99 Wooster St.
The Associated Press contributed to this report