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The Activism That Came Before Stonewall And The Movement That Came Out Of It

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, activists rode their motorcycles during the city's 1989 gay-pride parade. The events that took place in June 1969 have been described as the birth of the gay-rights movement, but that's only partially true.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, activists rode their motorcycles during the city's 1989 gay-pride parade. The events that took place in June 1969 have been described as the birth of the gay-rights movement, but that's only partially true.

Fifty years ago, a riot broke out at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village.

In 1969 it was common for police officers to rough up a gay bar and ask for payoffs. That's what happened on June 28, but as people were released, the night took an unusual turn when protesters and police clashed.

The events of that night have been described as the birth of the gay-rights movement. But that's only partially true.

Activists had been working for change long before Stonewall. Eric Marcus has spent years interviewing people who were there that night, as well as those who were pushing for gay rights before Stonewall. Many of those activists have since died, but Marcus preserved their voices for his book, titled Making Gay History.

Marcus spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro about his conversations with leaders of the gay-rights movement, as well as people who were at Stonewall when the riots broke out. Frank Kameny, co-founder of the Mattachine Society, and Shirley Willer, president of the Daughters of Bilitis, spoke to Marcus about being gay before the Stonewall riots happened and what motivated people who were involved in the movement. Hear more of the conversation and historical interviews at the audio link.

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