overview

In 1970, less than a year after Stonewall, the police raided the Snake Pit bar and detained many people at the local police station.

After one person attempted to escape and was impaled on a fence, the Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front quickly assembled a protest march, the results of which demonstrated the strength of the recently formed gay rights organizations and inspired more people to become politically active.

Header Photo

Entrance to the Snake Pit was located in the basement of this corner building. The stairwell and iron railing to the right of the corner storefront led to the bar. Credit: Ken Lustbader/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2018.

On the Map

 
Photo Above

This is thought to be a photograph of the Snake Pit protest, March 1970. Source unknown.

History

Only eight months after the Stonewall rebellion, in the early morning of March 8, 1970, police raided the Snake Pit, an illegal after-hours bar in the basement of a Greenwich Village apartment building (according to Bob Damron’s 1970 Address Book, an annual gay travel guide, the Snake Pit was located below the Texas Chili Parlor). The raid was led by Seymour Pine, who had also led the ill-fated raid on the Stonewall.

Fearing similar rioting when a crowd of patrons started forming, the police arrested over 160 people, who were taken to the 6th Police Precinct Station House at 135 Charles Street. Argentinian immigrant Diego Vinales apparently panicked over the possibility of deportation, tried to escape from the second story of the jail, and was impaled on the iron fence below. He was cut loose from the fence, taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and survived, but word spread that he was dead or dying.

The Gay Activists Alliance and Gay Liberation Front organized a quick response – an angry protest by a crowd numbering around 500 people, who marched from Christopher Park to the police station.

“Any way you look at it – that boy was PUSHED. We are ALL being pushed.”
Gay Activists Alliance, 1970 flyer

A candlelight vigil was also held at St. Vincent’s.

This incident, which received much media coverage, is credited with greatly inspiring more LGBT people to become politically active, including many who had not following Stonewall, such as future film historian Vito Russo. It also demonstrated the strength of the recently formed gay rights movement organizations.

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