Thousands of students, teachers, and parents attended a ceremony at the University of Maryland in College Park on Thursday, June 14, in which a 17-year-old high school student won the National History Day Contest award for an exhibit on the 1969 Stonewall riots.
Nicholas Gupta, a student at Pensacola High School in Florida, won the first-place award for a museum style exhibit he worked on for eleven months called “Out of the Closet and Into the Streets: The Stonewall Uprising of 1969.”
Gupta, who’s straight and just completed his junior year at Pensacola High, said he first learned about the Stonewall riots while searching for a topic for the contest. Organizers of the annual contest called on students to select a topic that fits into the theme of “revolution, reaction, and reform in history.”
“When I read about the Stonewall uprising it was something that really hit me,” Gupta told the Blade. “You know, wow, this is something that nobody really talks about. It’s kind of left out of the history books.”
The Stonewall riots took place in New York’s Greenwich Village in June 1969 after police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. Police said they raided the bar because it didn’t have a liquor license at a time when it was illegal to serve alcohol to homosexuals in New York City.
In what was believed to be a first of its kind development, the gay male, lesbian, and transgender patrons of the bar fought back, throwing bottles and rocks as police attempted the arrest them. The riots, which took place over several days, have been credited with triggering the modern LGBT rights movement.
More than half a million elementary and secondary school students participate in the National History Day Contest each year, according to a statement released by the National History Day organization, which is based on the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md.
“Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites,” the statement says.
Gupta said that after pouring over articles, books, and newspaper reports on the Stonewall riots he traveled to New York City, where he conducted additional research at the New York Public Library. While in New York, he visited the Stonewall building, which is the current home of a gay bar bearing that name. He said he also interviewed gay author and historian David Carter, who wrote the 2004 book, “Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution,” considered the definitive work on the subject.
Gupta’s wining exhibit on the Stonewall riots is believed to represent just the second time a gay related subject has won a National History Day Contest award. The first such entry to win occurred last year in the form of a student documentary on the 1977 campaign by singer and Florida orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant to repeal a gay rights ordinance passed in Dade County, Fla., which includes the city of Miami.
Gupta was among 152 winners in the national contest, in which first, second, and third place winners are chosen among individual and group categories of papers, exhibits, performances, documentaries, and websites.
The statement released by contest organizers says this year’s contest included 2,794 students and 1,691 entries, the largest number ever in the contest’s history.