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The right to dance with other gay folks in a bar somewhere? That's thanks to these people.

Sometimes a seminal event changes our culture forever. The Stonewall Rebellion (aka Stonewall Riots) was just such an event, and it ushered in a new era of gay and transgender people being out, proud, and no longer afraid to even dance at a bar without cops throwing them in jail.

The right to dance with other gay folks in a bar somewhere? That's thanks to these people.

In the 1950s and '60s, being gay was considered "un-American."

Those were rough times for gay and trans people in the United States. Their activities were monitored by government organizations such as the State Department. Even the U.S. Post Office, the FBI, and local police departments were involved.

Police would often raid gay bars or places suspected of having a large number of gay patrons.

They would raid and shut them down, and photos of the patrons would be plastered all over the newspapers. Some gay folks were even lodged in mental hospitals.


However, the civil rights movement, along with the antiwar movement, began to inspire people to fight the power.

Folks were challenging arbitrary police actions that kept citizens intimidated and in the shadows when they tried to rise up.

And there was a full-blown cultural shift happening — people were simply not going to live with the social constructs of the 1950s anymore. And I don't blame them.

A massive shift for gay rights began on June 28, 1969, in a Greenwich Village bar called Stonewall Inn.

This New York City bar was a popular hangout for gay and trans people in the area — an oasis, as many gay bars had been shut down. At the time of the rebellion, it was one of the only bars in Manhattan that allowed men to dance with men, and women with women.


The Stonewall Inn circa 1969. Image by Diana Davies/New York Public Library.

To prevent raids that targeted these people, bars often had to pay off cops — but it didn't always stop them.

Some say the owners of Stonewall Inn — who were members of the powerful Genovese mafia family — paid off cops in order to provide liquor without a license and to minimize raids. To this day, it's not clear whether police raided Stonewall Inn on June 28 in spite of being paid off or because they hadn't been paid off on this particular occasion.

During such raids, women were escorted to the restroom so female cops could "verify their sex." Anybody without ID was arrested, as was anyone not wearing three pieces of clothing "appropriate" for their apparent sex. All liquor was usually confiscated, too.

This had been pretty standard for gay bars since the 1950s, but something was different that night in June. They fought back.

"Now, times were a-changin'. Tuesday night was the last night for bullshit. ... Predominantly, the theme [w]as, "this shit has got to stop!"
— Anonymous Stonewall riots participant, via "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution" by David Carter

About 200 people at the Stonewall Inn that night refused to comply with showing their IDs to "prove" their sex.

Those not arrested or sent into the street didn't disperse as usual. They hung around outside the bar to see what was going to happen next. More came from the surrounding neighborhood, swelling the crowd to several hundred people, and more as word went out about the raid.

As cops escorted more patrons outside the bar, some began to shout "gay power!" and sing, "We Shall Overcome," the song adopted by civil rights demonstrators all over the country.

Laughter turned to rage. The air was electric with rebellion and resistance.

Image from PBS's " Stonewall Uprising."

Coins, followed by beer bottles and eventually rocks, were thrown at the police and their vehicles as rumors spread among the still-swelling crowd that some inside the bar were being beaten.

"Part of history forgets, that as the cops are inside the bar, the confrontation started outside by throwing change at the police. We started with the pennies, the nickels, the quarters, and the dimes. 'Here's your payoff, you pigs! You fucking pigs! Get out of our faces.' This was started by the street queens of that era."
Sylvia Rivera, historic transgender activist and cofounder of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance


It's unknown what the true catalyst was, but as the story goes, it was after one too many rough arrests — perhaps the arrest of noted gay civil rights icon Stormé DeLarverie — that the crowd couldn't take it anymore and ignited. All police vehicles sped away for fear of being overturned. Some cops remained and grabbed a few citizens on hand, including a journalist and a musician — perhaps as witnesses — and retreated back into the bar for safety.

The following hour saw rocks, bricks, and garbage cans thrown at the door of the bar, windows broken, and some fires set.

"We all had a collective feeling like we'd had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn't anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration. ... Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us."
— Michael Fader, via "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution" by David Carter

By the time the fire trucks made it, the cops had managed to get themselves out of the bar. Then came the tactical police force. Imagine the riot-gear-wearing, jackbooted cops like the ones who tear-gassed Occupy Wall Street folks several years ago. Or like those recently in Baltimore or Ferguson. This was the precursor to that style of riot "control," and they'd perfected their tactics in the civil rights demonstrations and antiwar actions of the earlier 1960s.

What followed totally pissed off the cops in riot formation. The crowd formed chorus kick lines, dancing and making fun of the cops, singing these words to the tune of "The Howdy Doody Show" theme song:

"We are the Stonewall girls.
We wear our hair in curls.
We don't wear underwear.
We show our pubic hairs.
We wear our dungarees
above our Nelly knees!"




As Martin Duberman wrote in his 1993 book, "Stonewall," "It was a deliciously witty, contemptuous counterpoint to the [police]'s brute force."

This humiliation only increased the savagery of the cops, who charged again and again, batons swinging. The crowds and kick lines would disperse as the riot formation advanced and reform after they'd passed, resuming their impromptu performances and taunting them further.


Even when cops managed to capture some of the demonstrators, people in the crowd would chase them and retake their comrades rather than let them be beaten and thrown into police trucks.

Poet Allen Ginsberg, who lived in Greenwich Village and visited Stonewall during one of the nights this was going on, stated:

"You know, the guys there were so beautiful — they've lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago."

It took five days for the Stonewall Rebellion to subside, but its effect was permanent.

A year later, a march was held in Greenwich Village to remember Stonewall, and Los Angeles and Chicago held simultaneous marches. These were the first gay and trans pride marches in the history of the United States, and from those grew thousands more in cities and towns all across the country.

It also sparked the formation of many gay and trans rights groups, and the gay liberation movement itself.

In the video below, actor Tim Robbins reads from the inspiring words of Duberman's "Stonewall." You can sense just a little of the energy that was felt up and down the streets of Greenwich Village for those nights, starting June 28, 1969.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Tod Perry

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