Today marks an important day in history, but one that was ignored when I was taking history in high school. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. No, this wasn’t a bunch of Civil War re-enactors getting grumpy, it was instead a seminal moment in the gay rights movement. We learned about the black civil rights movement and the suffragettes, but we didn’t learn anything at all about the gay rights movement, so I never knew what an important day June 28, 1969 was.
It was the day that a group of people, fed up with police brutality and corruption in an unjust society, finally stood up and said that they were as mad as hell, and not going to take this anymore! They rioted, big time, in New York City, creating a fire that burned its way across the United States and within two years had spread overseas.
I’ve learned a lot about the riots in the last few hours, largely from that Wikipedia article, which is today’s featured article. I never know, for example, that the bar was owned and operated by the Genovese crime family (sure, the mafia hated gays, but who wouldn’t love a group to whom you can sell watered down drinks for twice as much, knowing they won’t complain to the authorities?). I never knew that it coincided so closely with the death of Judy Garland (though it seems unlikely her death was a major contributing factor). I never realized that prior to the riots, gay sex was legal only in Illinois, and illegal everywhere else in this country that prides itself so much on freedom and tolerance.
I dump on gay culture quite a lot, but that’s at least in part because I have the luxury to do so. Like the educated black man who can look down on the minstrel shows and the stories of Uncle Remus, I can look down on the flamers and the love of all things Broadway. I have a broader, much more interesting culture that I can access and feel at home in; normal, mainstream, American culture, and that’s at least in part due to the struggles made by people during the Stonewall riots, as well as those brave souls before and after.
Gays, lesbians and bisexuals still have a long way to go before we’re actually granted the equality this country’s philosophy says we should have. We’re still excluded from the military, in actuality if not exactly in law. We can’t marry those whom we love, except in six states, and those marriages aren’t recognized nationwide or at the federal level. We can’t adopt children in many states. We’re still second-class citizens.
But much like Bunyan’s Pilgrim, we’ve made our progress. Thanks to Lawrence v Texas, gay sex between consenting adults is legal nationwide. In most places, we can’t be fired for our sexual orientation (and to straights who have a problem with that, let me ask you how you’d take being fired for being straight? Protections like these protect you, too). We’re more equal now then we’ve been at any time in our nation’s history.
So tonight take some time and remember our past, and keep an eye on the future (you’ll be spending the rest of your life there, after all). Start putting pressure on the White House to bring an end to things like DOMA, DADT, the HIV travel ban and other such discriminatory practices.
The weight of history is on our side. We are right and just and those who would treat us as subhuman are wrong and intolerant.
We shall overcome!