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  • Writer's pictureJacquelyn Zunic

Pride's a Riot

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

Last month was Pride Month, the celebration of and fight for dignity, equality, and visibility for LGBT people. After releasing Invasion of the Smileys, I decided it'd be kinda cool to explain the thoughts and designs behind the micro-collections. I posted some behind the scenes of that collection, and wanted to run a throwback to the "Pride's a Riot" collection from June 2022.

For Pride Month, I wanted to focus on and honor Stonewall, as well as donate $1 per item to The Trevor Project, a charity focused on mental health for LGBT youth. The Stonewall Inn resides in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, and stands as the birthplace of the modern fight for LGBT rights and is one of the premiere icons of queer culture. On Saturday, June 28, 1969, an uprising broke out in response to a unexpected police raid that became violent.

Feel free to play this in the background as you read about the Stonewall Riots.

Stonewall was a well-known, well-liked Mafia-run gay bar. Members of the Genovese crime family correctly assumed an accepting area for a marginalized community would turn a major profit. Between serving without a liquor license, paying off police for said lack of license, protection payoffs, and blackmailing wealthy, closeted guests, it was one of the most popular joints in New York. Patrons were mainly in their late teens through early 30s and displayed a wide range of diversity and lifestyles. They could openly dance, dress in drag (if they bouncer knew you), and express themselves and their sexuality. A place where the unwelcomed were welcomed.

In the months leading up to June 1969, other gay bars in the area had been shut down and police raids were becoming more and more frequent at the Stonewall Inn. Unlike a typical raid, where staff would receive a police tip off in advance and come early in the night so as to allow regular business to continue later, this particular night was different. Police came much later than usual, after 1 in the morning. Things happened so fast that many patrons were confused and stunned. Tensions were high. A stale air of discomfort hung in the air.

Everyone's restless, angry, and high-spirited. No one has a slogan, no one even has an attitude, but something's brewing. — Edmund White

In a courageous twist, patrons suddenly refused to produce identification or go with officers to the patrol wagon once they were discovered to be cross-dressing. Miscommunication and delays led to groups of people waiting in line for police backup and additional vehicles to arrive.

Instead of fleeing, patrons who were not arrested stayed outside and watched as the raid continued. By now, well over 100 people stood outside. An officer shoved someone in drag, who retaliated by whacking the cop with their purse. Some people sarcastically cajoled the police to thunderous laughter and applause. The mood was strained, but overall in good humor.

Until one lesbian kept breaking free from police as she fought and successfully escaped from them multiple times. Finally, after complaining that her handcuffs were too tight, she was smacked on the head with a baton.

"Why don't you guys do something?"

That simple plea turned the tide. As police continued to kick, shove, beat with batons, and otherwise assault patrons, the crowd's booing and jeers became something more. An electricity surged through the air. This was no longer a raid. This was a rebellion. This was a long overdue jailbreak, the last straw, a fight to reclaim their lives and break free from the anger, fear, shame, and sorrow they were forced to live under.

Over 500 people were in the crowd now, as bystanders joined and left other businesses and gay bars in the area to see what the fuss was all about. The police tried to restrain the crowd, knocking patrons down. Rumors of more police brutality were flying. Members of the crowd slashed some of patrol wagons' tires. Someone cried out that the raid occurred because the cops weren't paid off. So they threw pennies. Then beer bottles. Then bricks. A faint chant of solidarity whispered down the street. A nearby prison filled with queer folk threw flaming belongings from their windows and chanted "gay rights."

Police barricaded themselves inside Stonewall with several detainees. The police allegedly set a fire inside the bar. They severely underestimated a people who had nothing left to lose. The crowd MacGyvered a parking meter into a battering ram. They broke in through the boarded up windows.

The police unholstered their weapons and threatened to shoot. There was an anger that had never boiled before. The Tactical Patrol Force arrived. They detained anyone they could. Fought with people who refused to comply. Besieged the ruins of the bar. Dismantled and destroyed anything and everything inside. They marched down the street in slow motion, armed with helmets and clubs.

The crowd responded with kick lines and raunchy songs about drag, dancing in opposition to the show of force.

The police rushed the lines, beating the members with nightsticks against a backdrop of a blazing Stonewall Inn. It was hours since the raid began. The fight bled into multiple streets, with the crowd chasing the police away. By the end of the night, thirteen people had been arrested.

Rumors of the siege spread like wildfire throughout the city. Graffiti for a united front appeared on the blackened walls, including the phrase, "We are open." The following night, more riots broke out, with many from June 28th returning. Gay people were showing affection openly in the streets.

"From going to places where you had to knock on a door and speak to someone through a peephole in order to get in. We were just out. We were in the streets."

Rain washed out some rioting by the beginning of the following week. Leaflets were distributed and calls for action by gay people and politicians were made. Activist groups formed and began a decades-long widespread push for LGBT rights.

Pride's a Riot Collection

I spent a lot of time focusing on phrasing. I wanted it to hold a similar energy to the jocularity of the members of the crowd. I eventually decided on "Pride's a Riot," using an informal contraction of "Pride is" as well playing on the multiple definitions of the word "riot."

Riot: a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd; an uproar; uncontrolled revelry; rowdy behavior; an outburst of uncontrolled feelings; an impressively large or varied display of something; a highly amusing or entertaining person or thing.

I chose a vertical rainbow gradient instead of the traditional stratified pride flag to highlight the spectrum of color (and sexuality!) and act as a softer background. I curved the words into each other, continuing that softness and utilizing a hollowed font to create the illusion that pride, the rainbow, and riot were all enmeshed and impossible to separate. I wanted to highlight the fact that it was a riot that was absolutely central to the rise of pride and the fight for gay rights. It's a design that I feel opens a dialogue and celebrates the spirit of the LGBT movement.

Photo dump & video below:

Never forget Stonewall.

✌ jcq

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