Historically, confrontations with the police or other law enforcement have been movement starters for oppressed people in the United States. Some of these direct actions are hailed as great moments representing the United States’ tenacity – like how the 1773 Boston Tea Party is celebrated in many history books.  Yet, the direct actions of marginalized communities are frequently dismissed or repressed with weaponized language, such as the label of a riot as a means to undermine their movements for liberation. 

During this Pride Month where the protests for #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackTransLivesMatter are frequently criticized for being “unlawful” and “violent”, we wanted to highlight key moments of resistance and rebellion that have sparked the movement for LGBTQ rights in the United States. 

If you’re not Queer but reap the enjoyments of Queer culture, you too can thank a riot! Here’s a list of historical riots that were poignant for the LGBTQ movement and responsible for the freedoms we have today:



Stonewall Inn was one of NYC’s most well-known gay bars that welcomed drag queens and was a home for runaway and homeless LGBTQ youth. In June of 1969, when police dragged employees and patrons out of the bar, a series of riots and confrontations against the cops took place outside the bar for six days and involved thousands of people. 

The Stonewall Riots weren’t the start of the gay liberation movement, they were a major catalyst for gay civil rights in the US and across the world. 

One year after the riots, thousands of people marched from Stonewall Inn to Central Park, resulting in the first gay pride parade in NYC. In 2016, the Obama administration named the bar a national monument!



In the summer of 1966, a Gene Compton’s cafeteria worker called the San Francisco Police Department. When a police officer tried to arrest a trans woman, she threw a cup of coffee in his face. The LGBTQ community came together the following morning for what is now known as the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots and picketed Gene’s. It resulted in the creation of the Transsexual Counseling Unit in 1968.`



In 1966, when bars in New York didn’t allow for LGBTQ people to get served in bars, a group of gay men from the Mattachine Society challenged authority by organizing a “sip-in” at Julius at the West Village Tavern. Four activists told the bartender that hey were gay and the bar denied them. The case went to court and it was declared that NY State Liquor Authority could not deny service to gay people. 


  • White Night Riots


When Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, was assassinated in 1979, thousands of protestors rioted in San Francisco’s Castro District due to the lenient sentencing of Dan White for Milk’s murder. The White Night Riots were the most violent rebellions since the Stonewall riots ten years prior. 



The Dyke March first started in 1993 when over 20,000 lesbian activists from the Lesbian Avengers, ACT Up, and Puss N’ Boots, marched in Washington, DC without a permit and held a huge vulva like a puppet to protest anti-LGBTQ laws. Since then, the Dyke March has never held a permit @newnownext. 



At the Cooper’s Do-nuts Riot of 1959, Drag queens clashed with LAPD and threw donuts at officers who were harassing and arresting anyone whose gender identity didn’t match their gender presentation. It was one of the first LGBTQ uprisings in the United States. 

None of us are free until all of us are. We recognize that the movement for Queer liberation gained momentum because of “riots”. These acts of rebellion sped up change and were a direct rejection of the systems that keep us oppressed.