Stonewall Inn raid: what were the charges?

From the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Were there charges associated with this type of raid? Did the police routinely raid gay bars simply because of homosexuals congregating? My guess is yes, but didn’t there still have to be charges, false or trumped up ones at least? Or was there actually a “drinking while gay” law on the books?

Most cities had (have?) enough petty laws regulating the sale and consumption of alchohol that the police would always have grounds for a raid. In other words, if the cops want to find a violation, they will, no matter how careful the owner is.

There are similar laws in the health and fire codes. An inspector can always find cause to close down a restaurant/bar no matter what precautions the owners take. Often the only precaution that would guarentee a pass was (is?) a bribe.

Undoubtedly, there was some sort of generic “public immorality” law on the books, under which public lewd and lascivious nehavior was illegal. This isn’t so far-fetched even today; there are similar laws extant in many states. Montana (I think) recently charged a man with using profanity within earshot of women and children, an act violative of a nearly 100-year-old law.

Homosexuals to this day labor under some rather curious restrictions. Many states criminalize sodomy between consenting adults, a prohibition that the Supreme Counrt has ruled is perfectly constitutional.

I remember reading an appeal from a man convicted of a felony for soliciting sodomy from another man who turned out to be an undercover police officer. His argument on appeal was that this conviction violated the Due Process guarantees of the Constitution, because he pointed out that solicting sodomy for money (e.g. prostitution) was only a misdemeanor. In other words, the lesser-included-offense actually carried a greater penalty: if he had solicted sodomy for money, he would be committing a misdemeanor; by soliciting it pour le sport, he committed a felony.

He lost the appeal, by the way. The appellate court ruled that it was perfectly within the legislature’s province to draw such distinctions. This was an intermediate court, and I have no idea what happened to the case after that.

In any event, I digress. To return to the question, while I don’t know exactly what charges or probable cause therefor existed for the Stonewall raid, I can certainly suggest that there was no dearth of laws prohibiting all sorts of conduct that was likely going on in there.

  • Rick

But what kind of conduct was going on there? Was there boinking in the bathroom, or just a bunch of people drinking?

If there was sex in a public place, then I think there is legal grounds for a raid, gay or straight.

They were serving alcohol without a liquor license. The police had a warrant to shut the place down.

They were serving alcohol without a liquor license?

“I’m shocked, shocked, to discover there’s gambling going on here!”

“Your winnings, Sir.”

So why didn’t they get a liquer licence instead of rioting?

Common gay knowledge talks a little differently about the alcohol/no license thing. They could not get a license because they were an establishment that served primarily gay individuals. There is a movie called Stonewall that documents the insidents pretty well and accurately. The police at that time routinely raided gay establishments and since sodomy was illegal forced the patrons to a)leave, b) take off make-up, c) back farther away from their same-sex date, or d) any number of harrassing behavioural modifications. In fact, (from personal experience) these type of things still happen in areas that gays congregate but usually not at bars anymore and usually in the more conservative (aka bastard hell hole) places. Oh, the reason that the people started rioting at Stonewall was two-fold. 1) They got sick and tired of constantly being harassed by the police. 2) Judy Garland had just died. Judy was and still is an icon to drag queens. At the time, Stonewall was a drag queen/prostitute bar. It catered to the lowest class of people in the gay world and the majority of the clientele were either drag queens, hustlers, their patrons, and/or minorities.


Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

Women could be arrested for wearing men’s clothes in many communities - I don’t know if there was a law on the books in NYC at the time.

<<< Women could be arrested for wearing men’s clothes in many communities - I don’t know if there was a law on the books in NYC at the time.>>>
Thank god “Annie Hall” was shot 7 years later ( and, yes, RELEASED 8 years later…). Diane Keaton woulda been cuffed for sure.


" If you want to kiss the sky, you’d better learn how to kneel. "

IIRC, SqrlCub has it right. But wait, there’s more. At the time, the Stonewall was widely considered to be Mafia-controlled, as were most of the few gay bars in the city (I hasten to mention that no one has any accusations of that sort to make against current ownership. So the police felt that rousting the place had little or no downside – the Mafia may buy a judge or two to get out of crimes, but to complain against the police? Not likely.

If I get a chance, I’ll stop by tonight and ask if anyone has a more specific memory of the events as they happened.

It’s also worth mentioning that while SqrlCub’s assessment of the clientele is accurate when speaking about the riots when they happened, the current clientele runs mostly to an “upscale bear” kind of taste, with a campier mix coming by for special events. The hustlers and dealers and whatnot are long gone. (Gotta stick up for my neighbors!)

Jesus saves… Gretzky grabs the rebound… He Scores!

Since the early days of settlement, Montana has had an anti-sodomy law on the books. This law states that sodomy in any form is illegal. What is does not make clear is that in THOSE days sodomy did not mean what most people think it meant. Back before our current definition ie.“buggery” - sodomy was defined as sexual acts with a person other than your married spouse, and ANY position other than ‘missionary’ - even if you were married. Took all the fun right out of sex! But words change even if laws don’t.

I think that after this came to light the law finally came up to be reviewed by the state legislature.

I’m willing to bet that with fifty state legislatures in the mix, we today have at least twenty-five distinct definitions of sodomy in this country, and undoubtedly fifty different punishments for the commission thereof. And let us also recall that prosecutors are vested with a wide discretion as to whether or not to bring charges in any given incident.

But – each state has every right to define and proscribe such conduct. If it is the will of the people of Montana, let us say, to criminalize genital-anal contact, then they can do so; there is no right to buggery in the U.S. Constitution.

  • Rick