|The Stonewall Inn, taken September 1969.|
So much has been written and said about that 1969 day (including by me), that sometimes I don’t know that there’s anything new to add. There always is, of course, and today it’s more of a personal reflection. You’ve been warned.
If I could wave my fairy wand and make only one thing universally understood about Stonewall, it would be this: It was NOT the creation of white, middle class, “respectable” political activists—not even close. Instead, it was a rebellion sparked by a routine police raid on a bar that welcomed, as the Wikipedia article linked to above says so well, “the poorest and most marginalized people in the gay community: drag queens, representatives of a newly self-aware transgender community, effeminate young men, male prostitutes, and homeless youth.”
What happened next was unexpected by everyone: People fought back. Patrons at first and then, increasingly, those white, middle class, “respectable” political activists (although, some tried to dampen down tensions and “make nice”). In spite of themselves, and despite their huge differences, a more or less cohesive liberation movement was created, one that led, ultimately, to the successes we see today.
But the drag queens, trannies, rent boys and the rest started it all.
The other thing that always strikes me about Stonewall is that more than four decades later, we should NOT still have to be marching to demand our civil and human rights. All Gay Pride parades in the USA (and many around the world) are held to commemorate the Stonewall riots, and to demand social and legal equality for LGBT people. We march because we still haven’t achieved that.
Take marriage equality for example: LGBT people are in perpetual organisation mode, trying to persuade cowardly politicians to do the right thing, and we organise and spend millions of dollars to secure rights that heterosexuals get the minute they’re born. And that’s IF we win those rights: 37 US states don’t have the freedom to marry, and it took 17 years to remove the stain of DOMA. Worse, some countries put gay people to death—or like Uganda, want to.
And we have adversaries who smear and defame us with reckless abandon, people who spread outright lies (which they well know are lies) and, in so doing, incite ever more violence against us. In my view, this is deliberate: They think that if we’re beaten enough, if enough of us are killed for being LGBT, the rest of us will be frightened into suddenly pretending we’re straight. They don’t organise against us and lie about us because they merely disagree with us—they do it because they hate us. Don’t agree? Think that’s too harsh? Tough. The evidence is on my side.
So I look back at Stonewall and the courage of those pioneers of gay liberation. And I look at the countless activists who followed, including those white, middle class, “respectable” political activists like me, and I thank them, too, for the role they played. And then I look at the very long road to freedom and equality we have before us, and the power and wealth of those trying to stop us. There is so much to be done.
So, we keep marching—with our straight allies—because we’re still fighting for the basic civil and human rights that ought to be ours from birth. We keep marching because there are too many young people who, upon realising they’re LGBT, decide that suicide is the only way to escape the rejection of family, church and community who despise them for who they are. We keep marching because there are too many of us who are beaten or killed because of who we are or who we love. We keep marching because too many politicians and public officials think it’s okay to treat us as second class—or worse—citizens, that we’re not as good as other citizens.
We’ll keep marching until every last anti-gay bigot is pushed out of the way of freedom and relegated to the sidelines of history, shunted, finally, into the ignominy they so richly deserve. Because we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re marching.
Happy LGBT Pride Day. Make it count.
Photo above is by Diana Davies, copyright owned by New York Public Library. [Creative Commons License: CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.