50 years on from the Stonewall Riots, is society still failing LGBT people?

  • Warning: The above video contains some strong language

In the early hours of a June morning in 1969, millions of lives around the world began to change.

The Stonewall Riots, which started on a Mafia-controlled dance floor in Manhattan, are regarded as a turning point in the fight for equal rights for LGBT people.

Patrons, angry with the treatment of the gay community in an oppressive United States, set about engaging change.

At the time, LGBT people weren't able to serve in the armed forces or work for government institutions, and laws around the serving of alcohol could be used to discriminate against them.

The Stonewall Inn, where a framed news clipping highlights the 1969 riots that followed a police raid of the bar, in New York. Credit: AP

Much has changed since that night in 1969 - but LGBT journalist Benjamin Butterworth says society still has a long way to go.

He told ITV News: "In the last 50 years, we've come from a situation where LGBT people have to throw bricks to get heard to having big corporations celebrate Pride. I think that's amazing progress.

New York's Stonewall Inn remains a landmark to gay rights after the namesake protests. Credit: AP

"But there's still so much fear among LGBT people and so much animosity to them that I still fear holding hands with someone I love in the street in case someone says something nasty and homophobic to me.

"Even though lives have been transformed in 50 years, I still think there's a long way to go."

And, a stark example of just how far, came just a couple of weeks ago after a gay couple, Melania Geymonat, 28, and her girlfriend Chris, were left bloodied and battered after being assaulted on a London bus.

The reason? They refused to cave into goading from a taunting gang and kiss in front of them.

And, in Liverpool, earlier this week, two men were set upon by armed youths.

The youths made homophobic insults towards them before one of them produced a knife and assaulted the men.

Melania Geymonat, 28, and her girlfriend Chris were assaulted on a London bus for refusing to kiss. Credit: Melania Geymonat

Butterworth said homophobic comments made by people can make LGBT people feel so "small and threatened".

Speaking on his own experiences, he said that as a gay man, he was still singled out for appalling homophobic abuse.

"I remember being on a train coming home from Brighton's Pride celebration last year and a man got on the train and was shouting 'f****t' at me and threatened to pull a knife out of his pants and stab me just because I was gay," he said.

"He was shouting down the aisle that gay people were paedophiles. Now the idea that that abuse exists and happens in 2019 is terrifying.

"50 years after Stonewall, I think it shows how far we have to go to eradicate that kind of bigotry that still exists in Britain."

What happened at the Stonewall Inn in 1969?

The Stonewall Inn, on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, had been opened as a private gay bar by the Mafia two years earlier.

Police raids were often, but because of the Mafia connection with the New York Police Department, patrons and bar management were often tipped off well in advance.

In June 1969, the NYPD vice squad raided the bar twice within a few days.

During the second raid, on a Friday night, a crowd of protesters gathered opposite the establishment and the atmosphere quickly turned angry and confrontational.

As estimated 50,000 people took part in a Gay Pride march in New York in 1981. Credit: AP

When the police returned on the Saturday night, protesters were waiting. Many held hands and the situation quickly turned violent outside as bar patrons were being arrested inside.

Police officers were trapped inside the bar, others were facing an increasingly angry crowd outside, so riot officers were dispatched to the scene.

Clashes continued through the early hours until the crowd finally dispersed.

A few days later, a protest march was staged, which again descended into violence.

Within weeks, however, a movement was gathering momentum and soon the Gay Activist Alliance was formed.

By the time the anniversary of the first clashes came round, on June 28 1970, 'Christopher Street Liberation Day', the first Gay Pride march was being staged.