The Stonewall Uprising: Enough of LGBTQ Oppression

Imagine it is 1958. You let out a sigh of relief as you finish taking an exam that you studied for vigorously. To unwind, you decide to go out and enjoy your time with friends at a bar. You move your body to the loud music on the dance floor while holding your favorite alcoholic beverage high in one hand. You are having a fun time until you hear someone burst through the door. Police officers arrive with their nightsticks to disrupt the party.

Since the 1940s until the 1970s, police officers regularly raided bars in cities such as New York. During this time period, it was illegal for homosexual couples to show public affection, and bartenders were not allowed to serve alcohol to LGBTQ individuals (Holland, 2019). Furthermore, another act that was not permitted was drag: where individuals, particularly LGBTQ people, wear clothing that is not traditionally associated with their gender assigned at birth (Ryan, 2019). For instance, if your biological sex is male and you were caught wearing a dress, then you could have been arrested, charged with a fine, or experienced violent harassment from a police officer. To keep a lookout for the police, some bar owners would change the color of the lights in the bar from blue to white, and customers would know to stop drinking and dancing (Holland, 2019). The intervention of the police made it difficult for LGBTQ individuals to have a public sanctuary where they can freely express themselves.

Having had enough, on the morning of June 28, 1969, LGBTQ people began rioting against the police around Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. The crowd threw objects such as bottles, pennies at the officers. They also punctured the car tires of police vehicles. The police retaliated by physically beating the crowd and throwing tear gas grenades. Tear gas was a chemical that caused eye pain, but can lead to loss of eyesight. On July 2nd, 1969, LGBTQ activists protested outside newspaper offices due to homophobic slurs used in their coverage. For instance, a newspaper headline from the New York Daily News, read, “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.” The derogatory language expressed from this headline added fuel to the fire. The protests continued until July 3rd, 1969. Despite the violent demonstrations, no one died during these riots (Pruitt, 2019).

The Stonewall riots are a turning point in the history of LGBTQ rights. The Stonewall Uprising sparked future social movements, which led to people openly seeking positive change for the LGBTQ community. In 2008, thousands of people across the United States gathered to show their support for same-sex marriage, which was illegal during times of the Stonewall Uprising. Admist a tornado watch in Washington D.C, approximately 900 protestors went to the Capitol Building, the place where Congress met to make laws. They chanted statements such as, “Gay, straight, black, white; marriage is a civil right” (McKinley, 2008). Fast forward to June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states (Liptak, 2015). This change probably would not have occurred without passionate protestors that demanded change and rights for LGBTQ people, like people at Stonewall decades before.

James O’Neill, who served as the 43rd police commissioner of New York City, issued an apology on behalf of the New York Police Department (NYPD) for what happened during the Stonewall Uprising. He said, “The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong – plain and simple” (Gold & Norman, 2019). The scenery today is profoundly different than when the Stonewall riots occurred. Although police brutality is still an issue today, there are laws that protect the rights of LGBTQ people from what happened in 1969. Since 1970, June has been acknowledged as LGBTQ pride month, to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising that took place during the same month (Pruitt, 2019).


Gold, M., & Norman, D. M. (2019). Stonewall riot apology: police actions were ‘wrong,’ commissioner admits. Retrieved from

Holland, B. (2019). How the mob helped establish NYC’s gay bar scene. Retrieved from

Liptak, A. (2015). Supreme court ruling makes same-sex marriage a right nationwide. Retrieved from

McKinley, J. (2008). Across U.S., big rallies for same-sex marriage. Retrieved from

Pruitt, S. (2019). What happened at the stonewall riots? A timeline of the 1969 uprising. Retrieved from

Ryan, H. (2019). How dressing in drag was labeled a crime in the 20th century. Retrieved from



The Emergence of Underground Ball Culture

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right that belongs to every single individual. However, it appears that LGBTQ people receive the short end of this basic human right. Societal attitudes toward the queer community remain controversial. This controversy can make it difficult for LGBTQ people to openly express their gender identity and/or sexuality due to fear of social rejection from family members or peers. To cope with their fear, they can turn to underground ball culture, a haven for queer youth to live their authentic lives.

Drag is an aspect of underground ball culture. It is a sport that involves experimentation with gender and was assembled by members of the LGBTQ community in New York City in 1867 (Lindores, 2018). Drag queens, typically males, wear exaggerated makeup and clothing styles that are stereotypically made for women. Some drag queens add on silicone pads to increase breast size. In contrast, drag kings are often females that exemplify a masculine gender role. For instance, some drag kings perform impressions of male celebrities such as Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Every drag queen and drag king adopts a creative name and a unique persona that is displayed on stage.

In addition to drag, ball culture comprises numerous talent competitions where participants compete for trophies, fame, fun, etc. Voguing, a category of ball culture, involves two participants who have a rivalry. Instead of physically fighting, the voguers compete on the dance floor with dramatic, angular movements and poses that were inspired by models in Vogue magazine. They get judged on their dancing, attitude, creativity, and appearance. In 1990, Madonna, a famous American pop singer, incorporated voguing in her music video for her song, Vogue. Since the release of her song, public exposure to the dance style has increased significantly (Chatterjee, 2019).

Television shows such as Pose and RuPaul’s Drag Race have brought LGBTQ culture to mainstream media. However, before today, it is important to note that ball culture was not always an accepting place for drag queens of color. During the early 1900s, racial tensions were high because the subculture consisted of mainly white men as the participants and judges of the talent competitions. When people of color such as blacks and Latinos/Latinas competed, they often lost, and they were coaxed to lighten their complexion before competing. Crystal LaBeija and Lottie LaBeija, drag queens of color, were enraged with this racial discrimination. In the 1970s, they decided to establish the House of LaBeija, a place for drag queens of color to engage in ball culture without having to worry about racial prejudice (Goodman, 2018).

Crystal and Lottie LaBeija reshaped ball culture with their house system. Currently, there are over 100 active ball culture houses, particularly in popular cities in the United States (Grinnell College, 2020). Houses have been named after ball-walkers who were known for winning or being successful in ball competitions. Houses are led by “mothers” and/or “fathers” who are usually older LGBTQ individuals with genderless roles (Mohenu, 2018). Many LGBTQ individuals join a house at a young age and compete against other houses for entertainment purposes and to freely express themselves.

Aside from competition, ball culture houses are important because they provide guidance and a safe shelter for queer youth that seek help. Manuel Xtravaganza, a member of the LGBTQ community and House of Xtravaganza, was a teenage runaway and experienced hardships living on the streets. However, the support he received from his house family members motivated him to go back to school. He now has a master’s degree in nursing and wants to be a role model for gay teenagers. Hector Xtravaganza, founding member of the House of Xtravaganza, said, “They are sent to us. We don’t pick them. We just love and nurture them. It goes both ways; the children nurture us as well. This family is more real to me than my biological family. They are first” (Bullock, 2018).

Unfortunately, some biological parents do not accept their children once they find out that their children are not heterosexual and/or cisgender. Ball culture and its house system reminds LGBTQ individuals that they have their own form of entertainment and a community that encourages self-expression and self-love. It is pivotal to educate the public about queer culture because LGBTQ people deserve to have freedom of expression everywhere, not just in their ball culture family houses.


Bullock, M. (2018). From Paris Is Burning to Pose: The House of Xtravaganza. Retrieved from

Chatterjee, U. (2019). What is voguing? 10 things you didn’t know. Retrieved from’t-know-about-voguing

Mohenu, M. (2018). Here’s everything you need to know about the ballroom scene. Retrieved from

Goodman, E. (2018). Drag herstory: how Crystal LaBeija reinvented ball culture. Retrieved from

Grinnell College (2020). Underground ball culture. Retrieved from

Lindores, M. (2018). Voguing: a brief history of the ballroom. Retrieved from