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Gay History – March 8, 1970: The Forgotten NYC Snake Pit Bar Raid. 167 Arrested, 1 Critically Wounded

March 8, 1970:

Many people don’t realize it but the raids on gay bars by the New York City Police Department didn’t end with the Stonewall riots in the summer of 1969. In fact the raids continued, virtually uninterrupted with some continuing on into the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

On March 8th. 1970 at about 5:00 am in the morning the NYPD raided the Snake Pit, an after-hours bar at 211 West 10h. Street in Greenwich Village. Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine (the same Seymour Pine in charge of the raids upon the Stonewall Inn) showed up with a fleet of police wagons, and arrested all 167 customers, staff, and owners and took them to the station house, which violated police policy.

One patron, Diego Vinales, panicked. An immigrant from Argentina who was in the country illegally, he feared what would happen to him in the police station and tried to escape by jumping out a second story window. He landed on a fence below, its 14-inch spikes piercing his leg and pelvis. He was not only critically wounded, but was also charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. As paramedics attended to Vinales, a cop told a fireman, “You don’t have to hurry, he’s dead, and if he’s not, he’s not going to live long,”

“You don’t have to hurry, he’s dead, and if he’s not, he’s not going to live long.”

Viñales was eventually cut loose and taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital. he survived after spending weeks in the hospital and when released moved back to Argentina.

The Gay Activist Alliance immediately organized a protest for later that night. A pamphlet publicizing the protest read, “Any way you look at it, Diego Vinales was pushed. We are all being pushed. A march on the Sixth Precinct will take place tonight, March 8, at 9 pm, gathering at Sheridan Square. Anyone who calls himself a human being, who has the guts to stand up to this horror, join us.” 

A silent vigil will occur immediately following the demonstration.” Nearly 500 people showed up for an angry and loud but peaceful protest protest to the precinct station on Charles Street, followed by a vigil at St. Vincent’s hospital where Vinales lay in critical condition.

Rep. Edward Koch, who would later become the Mayor of NYC accused NYPD Commissioner Howard Leary of green-lighting the resumption of raids, harassment, and illegal arrests against the gay community. Both Leary and Seymour Pine was reassigned to the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

The gay community, which had already witnessed a burst of organizing activity since the Stonewall uprising nine months earlier, became even more politically and socially active, setting the stage for the first Christopher Street Pride March 3 months later on the first anniversary of Stonewall Riots.

#LearnYourHistory  #NeverForget   

*WARNING:  Graphic image below.

23-year-old Argentinian immigrant, Diego Viñales, apparently got scared and jumped out the precinct window and was impaled on an iron fence.


Will Kohler

Will Kohler is one of America's best known LGBT historians, He is also a a accredited journalist and the 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 on such notable media venues as BBC News, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Wall Street Journal, Hollywood Reporter, and Raw Story. Back2Stonewall has been recently added to the Library of Congress' LGBTQ+ Studies Web Archive. Mr. Kohler is available for comment, interviews and lectures on LGBT History. Contact: Will@Back2Stonewall.com

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15 thoughts on “Gay History – March 8, 1970: The Forgotten NYC Snake Pit Bar Raid. 167 Arrested, 1 Critically Wounded”

  1. Our history is not always proud, and this is the perfect documentation for future generations. Forgetting the abuses of the past means it will likely repeat itself.

    1. True. However kids today want to forget “ancient” history and pretend that everything is rainbows and light because we have “marriage” equality. hah.

  2. I never heard about this story at the then after-hors gay bar called The Snake Pit from 1970 and it surely was a mafia-run establishment. It sure is a notable one, and points directly to the vicious ignorance, homophobia and outright hate of homosexuals at that time, and particularly to the NYPD ! Gays were largely invisible in those hostile days and tried hard not to draw attention to themselves, for fear of being outed and having their lives ruined. Stonewall was only one year before, in June 1969, and little had changed for the status of gay men and women in society. That very year, in 1970, saw the first mobilized and organized gay rights march on the streets of Greenwich Village, know as: “The Christopher Street Liberation Movement.” It would take another 7 years, in 1977, for gays to move forward and fight nationally against that notorious homophobe and drunk on religion dreg Anita Bryant to launch a campaign of homosexual visibility and demand fair and equal treatment. Her “Save the Children” campaign was a guise under religious freedom to stop homosexuals from standing-up and being counted in those dark and ignorant times.

  3. “In fact the raids continued, virtually uninterrupted with some continuing on into the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.” I came out in mid 1975 and I never once was involved in, saw or heard of a police raid on a NYC gay bar. Where is the documentation for this claim?

    1. You obviouly missed the police raids of such clubas as Alex in Wonderland, Crisco’s was raided a few times, and other bars/discos. The documentation was I was there. Good enough?

      1. Well no reason to get defensive. No I don’t remember either of those places being raided – and “other bars/discos” means nothing. “I was there” is not documentation.

        1. I was not being defensive sorry if it came out that way. Unfortunately I was there is the only real documentation that exists from that time period and before since many of these events were not reported in major media outlets and many local gay media outlets are not digitized and are lost.

  4. His assertion that raids on gay bars continued into the 70s and 80s is completely, utterly and boldly false and untrue. I’m 62. Came out in 73. I probably spent 4 nights a week going to bars in the city after being brought to my first gay bar in spring 73. Never once was a bar raided in my time, nor did I ever hear any mention of a raid. Ever. Period.
    If there were raids it was likely due to drug use or public sex; not because it was a gay bar.
    I was there. And I got there early!

  5. This story seems to have been lost through time. It occurred in 1970, and in those dark years gays lived in constant fear with shame and guilt never really far off.The young generation today has no idea what it was like back then and what people had to endure to simply congregate and have a drink, socialize and just feel safe and comfortable. Those o us
    that grew up in the 70’s had it a little better as young men than those in the previous decade of the 1960’s,before Stonewall, but not much ! Society remained highly homophobic and hostile towards gays. The Anita Bryant crusade of 1977 could have never occurred if people were not ignorant and openly fearful and hateful of homosexual men like that. As gays remained largely invisible and had no real voice or power to draw attention to their plight and unjust victimization,her “Save Our Children” campaign gained steam. It ultimately back-fired in her face,as gays began to mobilize;stand-up and raise their hands to be counted and demand fair and equal treatment. The rest is history ! I wish PBS would air a documentary on this event…”The Sake Pit Raid.”Most gays today have forgotten or never heard of it. It would open peoples eyes,gay and straight alike,to the horrors of those dark, corrupt and persecuted times for a minority that was only guilty of not being heterosexual !

  6. Is anyone planning a commemorative vigil at that site this March 8th for the 50th anniversary of that horrendous raid ? It is not clear if the victim,Diego Vinales,a 23 year old Argentine citizen in New York City on an expired Visa actually died in the hospital of his injuries or recovered ? If anyone reading this knows the true outcome,please respond here.Today,he would be 73. I want to organize a vigil at that Greenwich Village site,the spot where the “Snakepit” after-hours gay bar once was in the basement at: 211 W.10th Street and 7th Avenue South,this March 8th.(Sunday),starting at noon.Please bring flowers,candles,posters,cards,etc.If that young and handsome man survived this travesty in 1970,God bless him. If not,God rest his soul.Either way,what he endured that dark day is beyond deplorable and the LGBT community has come so far in those 50 years…a half century ! We must never forget ! Spread the word and if anyone knows if Diego is alive and well,.please ask him to meet us there…in his honor !

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