Behind the Exhibition | Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50


Hello, my name’s Jason Baumann. I’m Assistant Director
for Collection Development for the New York Public
Library and coordinator of the Library’s
LGBTQ initiative and I’m also the curator
of this exhibition. So in the simplest
sense, the Stonewall Inn was a bar in the West
Village in the 1960s. It was an illegal
establishment that was patronized by LGBTQ
patrons and a wide range of different people. The bar was owned by the
mafia and was often raided by the police– both because it didn’t
have a liquor license and was operating illegally,
but also to harass LGBTQ patrons who were in the bar. In June of 1969, there was– later in that month there was
a raid of the Stonewall Inn. The police expected it
to be a routine raid and it really wasn’t, because
the patrons in that moment decided to fight back and it led to about a week
of rioting and protests in the West Village and activists, particularly
from the Mattachine Society of New York, which was a
gay activist organization that had been operating for
almost 10 years in New York City, really seized upon the
riots, publicized the riots, and used them as a way to
draw in a whole new generation of activists into the emerging
LGBTQ activism of the time. So I think another part of
the context of Stonewall why the riots happened is
you had queer youth living in the village at
that time– many of whom were disenfranchised, some
who might be homeless, some who were gender
nonconforming and were really part of a counterculture
that was emerging in the village at that time as well as you had
the student movement, the anti-war movement,
there was also African-American
civil rights movement, which was a huge influence on
LGBTQ politics in the 1960s and 70s and so the community
was really primed to fight back and have
this conflict with police and with the authorities. I think it was a turning point. It wasn’t the first time that
queer people had fought back, but because the activists
really embraced that moment, they turned it into
this turning point. After Stonewall in the
months that followed, a huge number of people
joined the movement inspired by the Stonewall Riots and they started organizations
like the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance,
the Radicalesbians, Street Transvestite
Action Revolutionaries and so this whole new
queer political culture emerged in New York
City fueled by the riots and also inspired by them. The exhibition is
divided into four pieces. So a section on
protests, a section called “In Print” that’s about
the LGBTQ press, a section on love, and a section on bars. The most important thing
I want people to come away from the exhibition
with is to be inspired to be politically
active themselves. I think the clearest
thing that you see from the show is
that our society changed because LGBTQ people
got involved politically and they changed our society and I want people to be
inspired to know that they can make a difference today.

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