Pride events this year are coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — the rebellions that are widely considered to be the catalyst of the modern fight for LGBTQ rights.

The riots were sparked after a police raid on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, a well-known gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village neighbourhood.

During the late ‘60s, the Stonewall had become a frequent target of the New York Police Department, says Beverly Bain, a University of Toronto professor of women and gender studies.

At the time, homosexuality was viewed as a mental disorder and law enforcement often saw it as a crime. LGBTQ people could be arrested for showing affection and bars that served the gay community often lost their liquor licences.

But in the early hours of June 28, the patrons of the Stonewall and other members of the community fought back against police harassment, unjust arrest and a broader culture that kept gay life in the shadows. Many cite two transgender activists, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, as helping to lead the charge.

"This time, the activists decided they would challenge the police, to recognize that they were entitled to space, that they were entitled to be where they were," Bain told

An article published the next day in the New York Post described the riots as follows: "As persons seized in the raid were driven away by police, hundreds of passerby's shouting ‘Gay Power’ and ‘We want Freedom’ laid siege to the tavern with an improvised battering ram, garbage cans, bottles and beer cans in a project demonstration."

Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto, said while many think the relationship between police and LGBTQ communities is a recent topic of debate, it is in fact one of the foundations of the modern Pride movement.

"What (people) don't appreciate is actually, Pride started as a riot against the treatment of the community by police services, at that point in New York, but quite frankly, it was common practice across most of the world," Nuamah told

Historians say after Stonewall, community leaders organized, forming the Gay Liberation Front. And in 1970, Gay Pride marches were held in New York, Chicago, L.A., and San Francisco. The movement spread, and in the early 1970s, Gay Pride events were held in several Canadian cities.

In June 2016, the Stonewall became the first U.S. national monument dedicated to the fight for LGBTQ rights. 

Also that month, Toronto police apologized for a 1981 raid on four bathhouses, which resulted in the arrest of hundreds of gay men. 

Earlier this month, the NYPD apologized to the LGBTQ community for its role in the Stonewall Riots, vowing that such oppression and discrimination would "never happen" again.

-With files from The Associated Press