One of the most enduring questions about the Stonewall riots is, Who threw the first brick? According to what has become a sort of origin myth, someone flung a chunk of masonry at police officers as they hauled revelers away during a routine raid of the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar, in the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969. Other onlookers followed suit, lobbing whatever they could get their hands on—coins, rocks, glass bottles—to protest the harassment that queer people had long suffered at the hands of the state. The ensuing multi-night riots have since become a potent symbol of queer liberation.
Though the brick has achieved legendary status, there’s little historical consensus on who, if anyone, actually threw it. Still, the story has persisted. Fifty years after the Stonewall riots, if you scan certain quarters of the internet—Gay Twitter, Reddit threads—you might see that the brick-thrower question has taken on a fascinating life. You might even notice, more specifically, that your favorite celebrity holds that revered place in queer history: Mariah Carey threw the first brick. Betty Who threw the first brick. Beyoncé threw the first brick. So did Nicki Minaj, the cast of Glee, Nicole Kidman’s wig in the 2018 film Boy Erased, and Lady Gaga’s wail in the chart-topping A Star Is Born single “Shallow.” (You might see someone say that Kylie Minogue threw the first cowboy hat or that Stevie Nicks threw the first curse.) While this meme might just seem like an anachronistic gag, it also functions as a meaningful way to celebrate a variety of gay icons and the distinct resonance they have for their queer fans.