BBC Radio 2  

Forty years ago in June 1969, a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York resulted in a series of violent demonstrations which kick-started the international gay liberation movement.

Presented by Tom Robinson, BBC Radio 2's Stonewall: The Riots That Triggered The Gay Revolution (Tuesday 30 June 2009), visits the Stonewall Inn as it is now to re-imagine the riots, and examines the legacy of this historic week of disturbances.

The one-hour documentary contains interviews with rioters, journalists and policeman who were there and explores what really happened and asks why, after decades of similar raids across the United States, it was Stonewall that exploded the most violently.

Stonewall: The Riots That Triggered The Gay Revolution finds out what impact the riots had on gay people around the world and asks, 40 years on, what we still have to learn from the events of that fateful summer week in New York.

Lewis Carnie, Head of Programmes, Radio 2 and 6 Music, said: "Radio 2 continues to commit to documentaries that reflect the world we live in and that deliver distinctive and thought-provoking content to our listeners. I'm proud that Stonewall is the first BBC in-depth documentary into the Stonewall Riots and delivers a remarkable look back at one of the most revolutionary moments in modern history."

Using archive material and new interviews with those who were there, Stonewall: The Riots That Triggered The Gay Revolution provides a snapshot of the riots in full swing. Many believe that the gay rights movement began the night after the Stonewall Riots yet, prior to the riots, there was a growing resistance amongst the gay community. Previously unheard archive interviews with late activists Craig Rodwell and Barbara Gittings reveal the transformation of the gay power movement.

In 1969, New York was in the middle of an election campaign and the Mayor, John Lindsay, was calling for a clean-up of the city's bars. With ties to organised crime, the Stonewall Inn was an easy target. But things soon turned ugly, as customers spilled out from the Stonewall Inn onto the street, a crowd of thousands gathered, forcing the police to retreat back into the bar, pursued by petrol bombs.

What followed was three nights of pitched battles between the gay community and riot police in the streets of Greenwich Village. The Gay Liberation Front formed just a month after the riots and soon became an international force.

Peter Tatchell talks about how the riots spurred him on to become an activist with the GLF in London. And, just three years after the riots, in 1972, US law changed to the effect that homosexuality was no longer considered a mental illness.

Stonewall: The Riots That Triggered The Gay Revolution pays a visit to the newly-refurbished Stonewall Inn to ask whether revellers feel like they have reached full acceptance. While the events of 1969 helped move gay rights forward, many still struggle to discuss their sexuality openly.

The programme asks if there are still lessons to be learnt from that fateful night four decades ago. As the debate on same sex marriage continues to divide US politics, how far will the battle continue?

Presenter and musician Tom Robinson kickstarted his own musical career with his Top 20 hit Glad To Be Gay in the late 1970s and rounded it off twenty years later with an album cheerfully titled Having It Both Ways. He presents new music shows for BBC 6 Music shows every Friday at 7.00pm, and in the small hours of every Sunday and Monday morning from 1.00am

Listen or download

Archived as ten sections:
click to listen, right-click to download

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10


Produced by Joby Waldman, Stonewall: The Riots That Triggered The Gay Revolution is a Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 2.

The programme consultant is David Carter, author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked The Gay Revolution.

    Rainbow Flag        
  BBC Radio 2