NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The bar considered the birthplace of the LGBTQ rights movement is at risk of closing.
On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street because at the time, being gay was illegal.
Patrons fought back, prompting riots and a wave of activism.
An 81-year-old who goes by the name “Tree” was there.
“I went to jail many times just for being in a gay bar,” Tree told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner.
Today, he’s a bartender at the Stonewall Inn, which is struggling to survive after being closed from the coronavirus since March.
“I lived through everything, wars, AIDS. This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my 81 years,” Tree said.
It recently opened for takeout drinks, which co-owners Kurt Kelly and Stacey Lentz say might help pay the electric bill, but they’re behind four months of rent, around $40,000 bucks a month.
After getting little financial assistance from the government, they set up two GoFundMe accounts — one for their 30 employees who live off tips and another just for rent and to keep the lights on.
“It’s not even about the money aspect for us. It’s about watching the joy on people’s faces because this is where it started,” Lentz said.
“My philosophy or my thought of what the Stonewall Inn means is strength in numbers. Every rock we put on that wall, we’ve become stronger and stronger as a community,” Kelly said.
People from all over the world have donated money to save the Stonewall Inn. The owners say donations and when they can open for Phase 3 will determine their future.
On Sunday, the national anthem will be sung outside and streamed online as part of a series of virtual events the organization NYC Pride is hosting.
At 1 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, New Yorkers are encouraged to cheer out their windows.
“We want to see New York loud and proud, so take part in that cheer. We may not be together in streets, but we are still together in spirit,” said David Correa, interim executive director of NYC Pride.
A fighting spirit that persevered through 1969, and advocates expect will persevere even through the coronavirus.