Book Review: The Stonewall Riots – A Documentary History by Marc Stein

Every year we get ready for Pride. We fill the streets with rainbow flags and slap on a bit glitter. It is the designated time of year when most liberal, hetronomative societies in the world have to tolerate the LGBTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersexual, asexual, ally, pansexual) community so they can shout:

“We are here! We are queer! Get used to it!”

Some parts of the community do feel that the main Pride celebration doesn’t include every one that the LGBTQ+ umbrella attempts to encapsulate. That certainly seems to be true. The increase in popularity of Black Pride and Trans Pride alone shows that our community needs to work on it inclusivity.
The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History illustrates that this is nothing new. The Pride of today is just as polarising as different elements of LGBTQ+ community were during the time period that gave birth to the parade itself.

This book is a collection of primary and secondary sources that document the time of Stonewall. These sources include publications and media written by members of the community. These serve as evidence that shows the importance of different LGBTQ+ organisations and other various groups in moving the fight for gay rights forward rather that focusing on the impact of Stonewall as a stand alone event.

The texts make it easy to see how people of colour played a key role in the way the early battles for LGBTQ+ rights were fought. The sources give evidence of how heavily gay rights organisations were influenced by the black civil rights movement.
The book sources illustrate how little respect transgender people had within the community. At times transgender activist were the most passionate and among the loudest voices in the gay rights movement. Similarly, lesbian voices were ignored and their role as activists down played.

One document outlines how some gay organisations tried to police the community’s public image. The document shows an article which calls for gays to be ‘less camp’.

We see how public authorities ignore crimes committed against the LGBTQ+ community. Whilst the legal system does it’s best to punish and surpress anyone that was suspect of not being cis and hetrosexual.

Even though 50 years have passed since Stonewall things haven’t changed enough.

In the book there is an article from a newspaper in which a lesbian retells the story of a night out where she finds herself being questioned by straight men in a bar. They ask her questions such as:

“Why some lesbians wore such (to them) uncomplimentary clothes and haircuts… How did I become lesbian? Did I plan to be ‘cured’?”

I was asked these questions when I started university over a decade ago in Brighton. Brighton is a UK seaside city famed for it gay scene. I was asked these questions a few months ago. In 2019. 2019 is a year that some feel no longer needs Pride because a small percentage of the global LGBTQ+ community have gained a fraction of the rights needed to declare equality. It is reoccurring incidents like this that drive home why we have to remember that Pride isn’t just a party. Pride is a protest.

The great thing about this book is that it has sources that are collected from before, during and after Stonewall.
I would recommend this text as a companion to study. I wouldn’t say it is something that you can go to without at least an understanding of the significance of the Stonewall Riots as an historical event.

I would encourage anyone with an interest in history to get their hands on a copy. It would be a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone studying queer studies, sociology or politics. A great resource for any equality activist.

‘The Stonewall Riots: A documentary history’ is available to purchase at and other book retailers.

This review was made possible by Netgalley with an advanced reader copy.


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