6 Ways Colleges Can Honor the Stonewall Riots Today

The Stonewall Riots changed the course of LGBTQ+ history. Celebrate LGBTQ+ students and honor this historic event with pride.
7 min read

Share this Article

  • The Stonewall Riots were a critical turning point in the gay rights movement.
  • The LGBTQ+ community amplified the fight for equality during and after the Stonewall Riots.
  • Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are among the most notable leaders.
  • The impact of the Stonewall Riots continues today, inspiring activists around the world.

A raid by the New York City police department led to one of the most influential uprisings in LGBTQ+ history. The Stonewall Riots, also known as the Stonewall Uprising, became a pivotal point in the gay rights movement during the 1960s.

The impact of the Stonewall Riots remains strong today. Inspired by LGBTQ+ leaders of the 1969 uprising, present-day student activists find strength in this major historical moment.

History of the Stonewall Riots

The Stonewall Riots occurred in 1969, beginning at the Stonewall Inn. Located in New York City, the Stonewall Inn was one of the few bars catering to the city's LGBTQ+ population. People risked police confrontation in order to spend time in establishments that allowed LGBTQ+ individuals to peacefully share space together.

For people visiting gay-friendly establishments, the risk was high. Individuals risked losing their jobs, encountering police brutality, and experiencing community hardships.

On June 28, 1969, the New York City police issued a warrant and raided the Stonewall Inn. The police raid resulted in physical altercations between officers and patrons, bodily checks of adherence to New York's gendered clothing law, and the arrests of 13 individuals.

Many within the LGBTQ+ community were fed up with the ongoing discrimination and harassment. Yelling and throwing small objects led to rioting by a growing crowd outside the Stonewall Inn.

The riots lasted five days, bringing thousands of people to the New York City streets near the Stonewall Inn. A critical point in the gay rights movement, the Stonewall Riots inspired the founding of new gay rights organizations and an increase in political activism.

Important Leaders of the Stonewall Riots

Thousands of people took part in the Stonewall Riots. Stonewallers, people who participated in the riots, banded together around the expressed need for better treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Solidarity and allyship brought many people to the streets of New York City, including the leaders who led many of the crowds.

Some of the most notable leaders of the Stonewall Riots include Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Both leaders took part in the uprising and were steadfast organizers and activists throughout the gay rights movement.

Marsha "Pay it no mind" Johnson was an integral part of the Stonewall Riots. She marched, rallied, and advocated for the equal rights of the LGBTQ+ community throughout her life. As a longtime activist and leader in her community, Johnson was considered an icon.

Sylvia Rivera participated in the Stonewall Riots, led protests, and advocated for the equal treatment of all historically excluded people. From a young age, Rivera spoke out against discriminations against people of color and the gay community. She was a supporter of the Black Liberation movement and pushed for transgender people to be included in the gay rights movement.

Together, Johnson and Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), building a home and community for gay and transgender people living on the streets. Their legacies live on and continue to inspire the LGBTQ+ community today.

6 Ways Colleges Can Honor Stonewall and Celebrate LGBTQ+ Students

Honor the legacy and continuing impact of the Stonewall Riots on campus. Acknowledging Stonewall's leaders, the gay rights movement overall, and the changes that arose from the uprising contribute to understanding the influence of Stonewall on students today.

Consider these six opportunities for colleges and universities to honor the Stonewall Riots and the LGBTQ+ community.

  • Share stories of connection and inspiration. Ask students, alumni, and faculty to share how the Stonewall Riots influenced them. In honor of the 50th anniversary, Barnard College shared community reflections on Stonewall's significance.
  • Host concerts, drag shows, or theater productions. Combine learning with celebration. Michigan State University's 2022 performance of "Hit the Wall," a theatrical representation of the uprising and its generational impacts, brought students and community members together.
  • Invite LGBTQ+ activists and leaders to speak to students. Local LGBTQ+ activists, student leaders, and nationally recognized spokespeople — like Judy Shepard's visit to Seminole State College of Florida's campus — can celebrate and honor the impact and influence of Stonewall.
  • Represent your college or university in a local parade for Pride Month. Wear college gear and wave collegiate banners to show ongoing support and solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Host a movie-viewing party — like Jackson College's online viewing of "Stonewall Uprising" — where students and faculty can gather together. Movies about the Stonewall Riots provide historical background and discuss long-term impacts of the gay rights movement.
  • Engage faculty in the history of Stonewall. Use the Library of Congress' resource guide as a starting point to ensure campus staff understand the importance and impact of the Stonewall Riots.

Explore LGBTQ+ Resources

Discover Now

Frequently Asked Questions About the Stonewall Riots

How did the Stonewall Riots impact the world?

Chevron Down

The Stonewall Riots brought global attention to the gay rights movement in the United States. The uprising went on for five days, and news coverage spread quickly. Recognition of the Stonewall Riots spread around the world, showcasing the solidarity of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.

Momentum for the gay rights movement grew after the Stonewall Riots. The uprising gave a platform to advocates and activists seeking equality.

What was the leading cause of the Stonewall Riots?

Chevron Down

The Stonewall Riots stemmed immediately from a police raid on the Stonewall Inn. The police raided the gay bar to arrest and intimidate the people inside. The riots were a response to the ongoing discrimination and harassment of the LGBTQ+ community. People pushed back against the political and legal systems that unfairly punished LGBTQ+ people.

What was significant about the Stonewall Riots?

Chevron Down

The Stonewall Riots amplified the gay rights movement. LGBTQ+ people fought their unjust treatment. The riots brought thousands of people together, building a stronger foundation for equality. The Stonewall Riots helped amplify the voices of the LGBTQ+ community.

Many gay activist groups around the country and the world grew out of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots were a critical turning point in the movement for gay rights and LGBTQ+ equality.