On Saturday night, August 29, 1970, over 700 members of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) and Gay Liberation Front (GLF), along with Radicalesbians and other women’s groups, held a peaceful joint protest in Times Square calling for the immediate end of police harassment against the LGBT community. Some 300 LGBT individuals had recently been arrested on a variety of charges in a “clean-up” of the area that month alone, and there were increased incidents in Greenwich Village as well. GAA leaflets accused the police of illegal arrests, verbal harassment, and physical brutality against the community; official support of such activities by politicians; silence by the public; and negligence by the press in covering these issues. GLF’s leaflets were more pointed: “The time for gays to take matters into their own hands is now .… We will be oppressed as long as we do not have the power to fight back.”
After marching around West 42nd Street, the crowd headed to the 14th Police Precinct Station House at 357 West 35th Street, where those arrested in the Times Square area were taken. The march continued down Seventh Avenue towards Greenwich Village, when word spread to target the controversial Women’s House of Detention, at Sixth Avenue and Christopher Street. At this point, GAA folded its banner and its members began to disperse. However, around midnight the Saturday night denizens of the Village swelled the crowd to around 1,000 people, with shouts of “Gay Power” and “End Police Harassment.”
Moving to Sheridan Square, protesters found that police were right then raiding the Haven nightclub at 1 Sheridan Square, and the police suddenly attacked the crowd. GLF members regrouped and marched back to the Women’s House of Detention, calling for its abolition. Women inside were incited to respond, shouting through the windows and throwing burning objects down to the street. Police arrived to respond to those inside and outside the prison, and a riot began that lasted for several hours. Bottles were thrown at the police — who attacked the crowd — fires were started, two cars were overturned, and some nearby storefront windows were smashed. Twelve people were arrested, and several police officers and others were reported injured.
The following Sunday night, beginning around 10:30 p.m., a spontaneous march took place through the Village, and another six people were arrested. GAA, taking a non-violent position, renewed its demand for an immediate end to police harassment, which would quell the explosive climate within the LGBT community.
Read about other GAA actions, listed in chronological order, in our curated theme.