Stonewall uprising veterans still astounded 50 years after making history

Time has claimed many of the street fighters who rebelled against the police raid of a New York City gay bar 50 years ago, in what has become known as the Stonewall uprising. Those who remain are still a little astounded at what they did.

Standing outside the Greenwich Village tavern one recent morning, at what is now the Stonewall National Monument, Mark Segal recalled the spirit of 1969, when protests against the war in Vietnam coincided with the African-American, Latino and women’s rights movements.

Gay power was next.

“Standing across the street that night, that little 18-year-old boy who is me, I never thought that I’d be here 50 years later talking about it. We didn’t know it was history. We just … knew it had changed,” said Segal, now 68, who has been at the forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement ever since.

On June 28, 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, ostensibly to bust an illegal Mafia-owned establishment selling watered-down liquor without a license. But police also abused the patrons as they had done to gays many times before. Police also suspected the bar’s management was blackmailing wealthy customers by threatening to out them as gay.

The patrons of the Stonewall, including Segal, had had enough, and they fought back.

“When I stood here in the midst of it all, I remember saying to myself in just an instant: OK, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” Segal said.

On June 6, just weeks before the city was expected to welcome 4 million visitors to mark 50 years since the uprising, the New York Police Department apologised here for the first time for the raid.

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