After Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band was produced in 1968 and gained a following, gay drama came out of the closet in which it had endured for decades. This was the first openly gay play to be staged in New York the year after the state of New York relaxed its ban on presenting homosexuality onstage. The second event that paved the way for gay drama through the remainder of the twentieth century, the Stonewall Inn riots, followed close on the heels of the production of The Boys in the Band.
The gay liberation movement in the United States sprang to life in 1969. On June 27 of that year, a tactical force of the New York City Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay gathering place in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Such raids, which had been a form of perpetual police harassment of gays, were frequent in New York and other large cities. They usually resulted in the arrests of a few people, causing them embarrassment and inconvenience, even though the charges against them frequently were dismissed. Records of these arrests, however, generally remained in police files and could be a source of concern for years to come among those who had been arrested.
June 27 was different from most Friday nights at the Stonewall Inn. The gay community was in mourning over the death of one of its icons, Judy Garland, five days earlier. Civil disobedience was in the air and had hung heavily over the country for some time as racial tensions, discontent over the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War, and concern over the unequal treatment of minorities led to widespread protests. The boiling point was being approached in many areas in which social discontent was seething not far below the surface. On that Friday night, large numbers of homosexual men whom the police tried to herd into their vans resisted strenuously; rioting ensued.