On his way home on June 27, 1969, Craig Rodwell came across a huge crowd in front of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, as it was being raided by police. At the time, police raids were common; but on this night, the police unexpectedly experienced furious opposition from people in the bar and passerbys. Compelled to stay, Rodwell called New York papers to gather press coverage of the riot right away. The morning after, the reports from daily newspapers like the New York Daily News, Village Voice, and the New York Times were not entirely positive, yet, they still created heightened feelings and unprecedented coverage. This is the moment that Rodwell, along with other gay rights activists, have been waiting for. The Stonewall Riots was definitely not the first demonstration in gay history. But, its momentum in the press has made it memorable enough to establish it as one of the leading-events in gay rights activism.
In addition to being at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots, Rodwell’s contribution to the gay rights movement in the 1960s has been extensive. Here are more moments of Rodwell’s activism around Greenwich Village:
Pickets: Rodwell and other organizers of the East Coast Homophile Organizations’ (ECHO) protesting against military practice of excluding gays from serving on September 14, 1964. After the success of this first demonstration, a series of groundbreaking public-pickets followed. One picket, organized by Randy Wicker, took place at the Great Hall of Cooper Union on December 2, 1964 in protest against a psychiatrist’s lecture titled: “Homosexuality, a Disease.” Alongside Wicker, Rodwell stood outside of the Great Hall’s entrance wearing signs “WE REQUEST 10 MINUTES REBUTTAL TIME,” and handed out homophile literature.
“Sip-In” Protests: On April 21, 1966, Rodwell and other members of the Mattachine Society were refused service at Julius’ Bar. This picture, later published in The New York Times and the Village Voice, sparked a revoking of the New York liquor laws that prohibited service to gay customers. Still at 159 West 10th Street, Julius’ Bar now stands as New York’s oldest gay bar.
Oscar Wilde Bookshop: Rodwell opened the first bookstore dedicated to gay literature on November 24, 1967 in its first location at 291 Mercer Street. Here, Rodwell founded the Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods (HYMN), a bookshop-based group that voiced for popular issues such as the end of Mafia and police presence in gay bars. Later moving to 15 Christopher Street, the Oscar Wilde Bookshop was just stores away from the Stonewall Inn. The bookstore also served as an organizing-space for the national “Christopher Street Liberation Day”, what is now annually celebrated as Pride.
The 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is approaching in June and New York City is planning to host the largest celebration yet for World Pride. Arranging for people to fly in from all around the world to attend, New York City is organizing a jam-packed month of events including a Human Rights Conference, VIP Rooftop Parties, workshops, networking events, and of course, the famous Pride March! The route of the march, starting at 26th Street & 5th Avenue and ending at 23rd Street & 7th Avenue, will touch LGBTQ historic sites around the Greenwich Village area.