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August 29, 1970: The Gay Activist Alliance and Gay Liberation Front Battle the NYPD in the “Forgotten Riot”.

If you think the Stonewall Riots was the only protest in New York City over police harassment in the gay community think again.

In 1970 after the  first Christopher Street Day (PRIDE), gay residents in New York’s Greenwich Village began to notice increased police harassment, particularly during the last three weeks of August. In one week alone, over three hundred gay men and lesbians had been arrested in the Times Square area. The Gay Liberation Front’s newsletter Come Out! reported that one young man was looking at a display window when a police officer came up to him and asked, Were you ever arrested?”  “No,” the young man replied. The officer said, “There’s always a first time,” and hauled him away. Women were also being harassed, which was a new development.

Local activists had had enough, so on  Saturday August 29, 1970, the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists’ Alliance, Radical Lesbians and other women’s groups organized a demonstration that night. About 250 people showing up at 8th Avenue and West 42nd Street near Times Square, and marched down 7th Avenue to Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village.

Riot

Photo by Steve Rose / Come Out!

The demonstration broke up around midnight, but the frustrations were still there. Some went on to march around the Women’s House of Detention at Greenwich Avenue and 6th Avenue. Police arrived to break it up, and the crowd ran toward Christopher Street. The crowd arrived at Sheridan Square just in time to witness the police raiding a bar called the Haven. As a mass of people gathered in front of the Haven, the police called for reinforcements. A police bus arrived, and it was met with a shower of bottles. A running battle ensued over the next two hours, as crowds set trash cans on fire, looted a record shop and overturned at least one car. Eight were injured and approximately fifteen people were arrested.  

This action has since been known as “The Forgotten Riot.” 

The next day, the GLF and GAA held a news conference at the gay-friendly Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles, charging the police with harassment. They also denounced police inaction against a series of gay bashings and anti-gay harassment in the neighborhood. A police spokesman denied that there were any increased actions against the gay community, but refused further comment.

 

[Sources: Frank J. Brial. “Protest march by homosexuals sparks disturbance in ‘Village’.” The New York Times (August 30, 1970): 49.

C. Gerald Frasier. “‘Gay ghettos’ seen as police targets: but homosexuals’ charge of harassment denied.” The New York Times(August 31, 1970): 28.

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Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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