Stonewall riots 50th anniversary: "We will be out, loud, and proud, and in your face"

Remembering Stonewall riots 50 years later

Friday marks 50 years since the start of riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, where a police raid led to backlash that fueled the modern-day gay rights movement.   

In 1969, the NYPD had a public morals squad. Those officers are the ones who raided the Stonewall Inn. At that time, raids at gay bars were common across the country -- but that all changed when hundreds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people joined together in protest, launching a fight for civil rights that continues half a century later.

Tree Sequoia was a 30-year-old bartender when police raided the Stonewall Inn. "We knew it was another raid ... Sequoia said. "And all of a sudden, we heard a crash. Somebody threw a rock through the window."
 
This time, Stonewall patrons resisted arrest. The violence escalated, and hundreds eventually joined in. Mark Segal, who was also at Stonewall, said the riots turned him into an activist.

"From the very first day it was:  'We're going to take back our identity. We're no longer going to allow society to label us.  We will be out, loud, and proud, and in your face,'" said Segal, the founder of the Philadelphia Gay News.

In 1973, Segal stormed a live broadcast of "CBS Evening News" holding a sign saying "Gays protest CBS prejudice." His message was seen by millions of viewers -- but Walter Cronkite heard him, too. Months later, CBS became one of the first networks to discuss gay rights.

Just recently, NYPD commissioner James O'Neill apologized to the gay community. "The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive," he said.

"I wasn't sure I was gonna do it until I got up to the podium, quite frankly …" O'Neill told "CBS This Morning" lead national correspondent David Begnaud. "I said, 'You know, this has to be done, otherwise New York City's not gonna be the place that it needs to be."

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president of GLAAD, said that her organization's story today "is about joining forces with all marginalized people."   

"You can't legislate acceptance..." Ellis added. "If you are not accepted, you are not safe, and you are not gonna move through this world with the same rights, no matter what, as anybody else ... Our stories are our most powerful tools for building acceptance."

For 28-year-old Raymond Braun, the Stonewall riots are history -- but it's an event that motivated him to travel across the country to places like Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which held its first gay pride parade in 2014. Braun documented in his journey in the film "State of Pride."

"We should be thinking about prides in literally every community …" Braun said. "Even if 20 people show up and it's a couple rainbow flags and a picnic table, that's important."

In 2016, President Obama declared the Stonewall Inn a national monument. Fifty years after the riots, Tree Sequoia still bartends at Stonewall several times a week. This weekend, more than two and a half million people are expected in New York to celebrate the Stonewall anniversary at this year's World Pride event.