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50 years later, crowds gather to remember Stonewall uprising

Thousands are expected to celebrate WorldPride 2019 in New York where the city is throwing a massive LGBTQ pride march.

This year, WorldPride coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which was the clash between police and gay bar patrons that sparked the modern gay rights movement.

At New York City’s monumental Stonewall Inn, there are those who come to pay homage.

“I’m ready. I’m ready to go,” said Joseph Negrelli, Stonewall Elder.

And those who come to remember what they lived through back in the summer of ’69.

“Nothing was really different that night except people decided to fight back,” Negrelli said.

As Negrelli remembers it the NYPD barged in as he sipped a drink inside the Stonewall.

Before that night, this tiny Greenwich Village bar was known mostly as a place for LGBT men and women to be themselves.

For many, sharing in the relative safety of this place came with a price.

They were subjected to frequent police raids, described by New York’s Police Commissioner five decades later as “discriminatory” and “oppressive.”

“If you were effeminate or dressed non-conforming your sexuality at birth, you were arrested and humiliated and that’s what was happening that night,” Negrelli said.

But on the night of June 28, 1969, the bar’s patrons revolted.

They fought back and refused to comply with officers.

“Someone threw a bottle from Sheraton square park into Christopher street,” Negrelli said.

That was the start of a night that would galvanize the modern day LGBTQ civil rights movement.

“75 people moved forward and blocked the police. Obviously, they got a big surprise that night. I was very surprised that immediately what happened was there was a call for homosexuals to come together,” Negrelli said.

Eventually, that call spread throughout the country and the world.

“The civil rights movement. The women’s movement all galvanized together but it was truly the transvestites and minorities that were the forefront runners of the Stonewall riots,” Negrelli said.

Five decades later, many of the voices that refused to be silenced returned to where it all started.

For Soraya Santiago, it’s been 50 years since she set foot at The Stonewall.

“I thought I would never be here again because a lot of suffering……. A lot of abuse occurred in this place,” Santiago said.

Santiago is back with her fellow Stonewall elders for the 50th anniversary of the riots.

So is Karla Jay, who has participated in subsequent protests at the bar.

“In 1970 we thought it would be wonderful to hold hands in the streets. We never dreamed that we would be able to get married. It’s an incredible advancement. But we really need to embrace all individuals. Particularly our most disadvantaged,” Jay said.

Five decades later, the activist says more needs to be done, especially for homeless LGBTQ youth and transgender women of color.

“We used to say, none of us is free, until all of us are free,” Jay said.


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