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Pride

Who threw the first brick at Stonewall? A final and definitive answer to the internet’s favourite question

Reiss Smith May 27, 2020
The Stonewall Inn.

The Stonewall Inn. (Getty/Ben Hider)

Who threw the first brick at Stonewall? Depending on who you ask, the answer ranges from Stonewall trailblazers Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga’s CGI’d ponytails in the “Rain on Me” video.

On any given day, Twitter might congratulate Mariah Carey, or Laura Dern’s Gucci fanny pack, or – in a much more snarky manner – Joe Biden for throwing the first brick.

The fateful piece of masonry itself even made it on to Entertainment Weekly‘s Pride 2020 cover, suggesting that it was the first brick at Stonewall that threw the first brick at Stonewall.

Much like the “gay rights” rallying cry, the brick has transcended its origins and is now a kind of shorthand for anyone – or anything – that titillates certain (queer) corners of the internet.

But beyond the memes, the first brick represents a vital part of queer history – even if there’s a very good chance that it actually never existed.

Who actually threw the first brick at Stonewall?

According to legend, it was a piece of brick hurled at police officers outside of the Stonewall Inn that sparked the historic uprising, and with it the LGBT+ rights movement.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, police had raided the New York City bar, harassing and assaulting some 200 queer folk including Stormé DeLarverie, a mixed race butch lesbian.

As DeLarverie was being bundled violently into the back of a police car, she is said to have asked the crowd that had been ejected onto the street: “Aren’t you going to do something?”

What most historians agree on is that the protest erupted at this point – but there’s no consensus on who was the first to take up DeLarverie’s call.

Stormé DeLarverie
Stormé DeLarverie was a butch, mixed race lesbian. (Stormé DeLarverie)

Did Marsha P Johnson or Sylvia Rivera throw the first brick?

Two trans women of colour, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, are names often associated with the first brick thrown at Stonewall, and were both at the forefront of the LGBT+ rights movement that was born from the riot.

But neither woman ever took credit for this, or even acknowledged that a brick was thrown.

Johnson denied that she was even present when rioting broke out, explaining in the 1979s that she didn’t arrive until 2am, when “the place was on fire… [and] the riots had already started”.

In 2001, she added to this: “I have been given the credit for throwing the first Molotov cocktail by many historians but I always like to correct it. I threw the second one, I did not throw the first one!”

Rivera said in 1989 that she had been drinking at the Stonewall when it was raided. After being ejected on to the street, she said, “everybody [was] looking at each other”.

She said they asked: “But why do we have to keep on constantly putting up with this?” before the “nickels, the dimes, the pennies, and the quarters started flying”.

Stonewall Riots: Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P Johnson (left) and Sylvia Rivera (right). (Netflix)

Over the years conflicting stories have emerged, with some disputing that Rivera was present on that first night. Even DeLarverie, at least on one occasion, played down her part, telling the author Charles Kaiser that her actions weren’t the catalyst for the uprising.

“The cop hit me, and I hit him back. The cops got what they gave,” she said, with the author noting that her words matched up with what has been labelled “the defining moment”.

It seems that, in all likeliness, there was no “first brick” thrown at Stonewall. At least, not one that singularly ignited the protests that took place that night.

Similarly there’s no one person who history agrees was responsible for the uprising, rather it was the collective effort of a group of bold and brave queer people who together, changed history.

More: Marsha P Johnson, Pride, Stonewall, storme delarverie, Sylvia Rivera

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