Their uprising against police was a major catalyst in the modern gay rights movement.
Now, people from around the world are descending on the city to celebrate.
“We have all experienced discrimination one way or another, especially within the fight to gay rights. And we have it much easier now because of what a group of people did here 50 years ago,” visitor Andres Ochoa told CBS2.
Bartender Tree Sequoia remembers that night well.
“We heard the screaming coming in from that side. We knew it was another raid when we hear that, but we did not know that was the raid of all raids because we were so used to raids,” he said.
Sequoia was 30 years old at the time. He still bartends at Stonewall several times a week.
On June 28, 1969, the LGBTQ community fought back against police who routinely raided the Greenwich Village bar, which became a national monument in 2016.
Stonewall’s owners say it still provides a forum for activism.
“It’s critical that Stonewall continues to be that globalized symbol and continues to lead the fight and stays at the forefront of the gay rights movement,” co-owner Stacy Lentz said.
Also at Stonewall on that fateful night was Mark Segal, and the experience turned him into an activist and founder of the Philadelphia Gay News.
“From the very first day it was, ‘We’re going to take back our identity. We’re no longer going to allow society to label us. We will be out, loud and proud, and in your face,'” he said.
Before the riots, homosexuality was mostly forced underground.
“A CBS News survey shows that two out of three Americans look upon homosexuals with disgust, discomfort or fear,” one reporter says in an old news clip.
In 1973, Segal stormed a live broadcast of the CBS Evening News protesting prejudice in the media.
Walter Cronkite heard him, and CBS became one of the first networks to discuss gay rights.
Five decades later, the community says the movement has come a long way, though there’s still more work to do. That’s why Stonewall continues to provide a forum for activism and remains a landmark in the gay liberation movement.
The New York Historical Society’s latest exhibition documents LGBTQ nightlife before and after the riots.
“We were just so honored to be able to come this year and see where it all started,” said one visitor.
“Our stories are our most powerful tools for building acceptance … If you are not accepted, you are not safe,” GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis said.
For 28-year-old Raymond Braun, learning about the Stonewall riots motivated him to travel across the country to places including Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2014 when it held its first Pride parade.
It was documented in the movie “State of Pride.”
“We should be thinking about Prides in literally every community … Even if 20 people show up, it’s a couple rainbow flags and a picnic table, that’s important,” Braun said.
Lady Gaga took the stage outside the Stonewall Inn for a performance Friday afternoon.
“The universe, the universe brought us together in the spirit of kindness, and we, together, we’re a powerhouse,” she told the crowd.
Web Extra: Lady Gaga Speaks At The Stonewall Inn —
Christopher Street was packed with people, thrilled to greet the extra special guest who has been a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues.
“I will continue to fight every day. During shows, even when I’m not onstage, to spread a message that’s actually quite simple: be kind,” Lady Gaga said.
“I love Gaga, so it’s so awesome that she’s here today,” John Eakins, of Singapore said.
“One of the owners of Stonewall sent me a ticket last night and here I am and there she is. It’s pretty amazing, and what an amazing day,” Chelsea resident Annie Brown said.
“You welcomed me into your community in the most beautiful of ways that I will never forget. My whole life changed because of you,” Lady Gaga said.
Earlier this month, NYPD commissioner James O’Neill delivered a formal apology to the gay community.
“I said, you know, this has to be done, otherwise New York City’s not gonna be the place that it needs to be,” he said.
A rally will be held to commemorate the anniversary from 6 to 9 p.m. tonight at Christopher Street & Waverly Place.