About half of Americans don't know what happened at the Stonewall Riots

Jamie BallardData Journalist
June 28, 2019, 1:15 PM GMT+0

June 28, 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, but most Americans don’t really know what that signifies. New research from YouGov in partnership with The Hill finds that nearly half (46%) of US adults are not aware of what happened during the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Nearly three in ten Americans (29%) say that they have heard of the Stonewall Riots, but they don’t know the details of what happened. Just one-quarter of Americans say they are aware of what happened at the Stonewall Riots.  

Millennials (30%) are more likely than Gen Xers (24%) or Baby Boomers (19%) to say they’re aware of the Stonewall Riots, though a larger number (39%) of millennials are not aware. 

Millennials may be more aware of the Stonewall Riots due in part to the fact that this generation is more concerned with LGBTQ+ issues in general than their older counterparts. Data from YouGov Profiles finds that 28% of millennials say gay marriage is a “top issue” for them, in contrast with 22% of Gen Xers and 20% of Baby Boomers.

Americans who attended postgraduate studies (48%) and liberals (45%) are the groups surveyed in this poll who are most likely to say they are aware of what happened during the Stonewall Riots. Those who live in a rural area (60%) or are Republicans (53%) are among the most likely to say they don’t know what happened. 

So what happened at the Stonewall Riots?

On June 28, 1969, police in New York City raided the Stonewall Inn, a bar which was (and still is) popular with the LGBTQ+ community. They found bootlegged alcohol and arrested several people for violating a state statute which required people to be wearing at least three articles of “gender-appropriate clothing.” Patrons and neighborhood residents witnessed the police using force on some of the detainees and began to throw objects at the police. The police barricaded themselves inside the bar, which was then set on fire by protesters. The fire was quickly put out, but protests continued for five more days. 

This event was considered a galvanizing force for LGBTQ+ political activism. In 2016, Barack Obama designated Stonewall Inn (and the surrounding area where the riots took place) as a national monument to recognize the area’s contribution to gay and human rights. 

Most (53%) Americans say they would be very or somewhat surprised if an incident similar to the Stonewall Riots took place today. One-third of Americans (33%) say they wouldn’t be surprised if something like this happened in 2019. 

Conservative Americans (61%) are the most likely to say they would be very or somewhat surprised if an incident similar to the Stonewall Riots took place in 2019. But majorities of moderate (57%) and liberal (53%) Americans say the same. Another 44% of liberals say they would be not very (or not at all) surprised to hear of a similar situation happening today. 

How familiar are you with the Stonewall Riots? Weigh in on issues that matter to you by joining our panel. See full results from this survey here

Related: Nearly half of Americans say that sexuality is a scale

Methodology: Total unweighted sample size was 1,225 US adults ages 18+. The responding sample is weighted to the profile of the sample definition to provide a representative reporting sample. Interviews were conducted online on June 18, 2019.

Image: Getty

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