On Friday, June 27, 1969, eight officers from the public morals section of the first division New York City Police Department pulled up in front of the Stonewall Inn, one of the city’s largest and most popular gay bars.

At the time, the vice squad routinely raided gay bars. Patrons always complied with the police, frightened by the prospect of being identified in the newspaper. But this particular Friday night was different. It sparked a revolution, and a hidden subculture was transformed into a vibrant political movement. What began with a drag queen clobbering her arresting officer soon escalated into a full-fledged riot, and modern gay activism was born.

This documentary, broadcast on the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, is the first documentary — in any medium — about the riots. It weaves together the perspectives of the participants, from Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, who marshaled the raid, to Sylvia Rivera, one of the drag queens who battled most fiercely that night. The revolutionary impact of the riot is better understood by looking at life for gay men and lesbians in the era before Stonewall, seen through the eyes of people like Bruce Merrow and Geanne Harwood, a gay couple who have been together for 60 years, and Jheri Faire, an 80-year-old lesbian. Remembering Stonewall also examines how Stonewall affected gay politics through the voices of people like Randy Wicker, the first openly gay person to appear on television and radio; Joan Nestle, founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives; and yippie leader Jim Fouratt, who helped found the Gay Liberation Front on the third night of the Stonewall Riots.

Premiered July 1, 1989, on Weekend All Things Considered.

Update on Remembering Stonewall

Sylvia Rivera, a drag queen who led the charge at the Stonewall Riots when she was 17, sent in the following update on July 4, 2001:

Since May, I’ve been the food director at the Metropolitan Community Church food pantry. My girlfriend Julia is my assistant and my computer person (because I still don’t know a damn thing about these new modern contraptions of yours!). We have also been rather busy with the resurrection of Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries and are planning protests around the trail of Amanda Milan’s assassins. So between the jobs and politics, you know how frantic it is. One of our main goals right now is to destroy the Human Rights Campaign, because I’m tired of sitting on the back of the bumper. It’s not even the back of the bus anymore — it’s the back of the bumper. The bitch on wheels is back.

Revolutionary love,
Sylvia Rivera

This documentary comes from Sound Portraits Productions, a mission-driven independent production company that was created by Dave Isay in 1994. Sound Portraits was the predecessor to StoryCorps and was dedicated to telling stories that brought neglected American voices to a national audience.