This year, we celebrate the landmark 45th anniversary of the riots at Stonewall Inn, giving us time to pause and deeply reflect on our history, how far we’ve come as a community and where we’re going.
This issue, we interview a few longtime leaders in the local LGBT community — their thoughts on their involvement during the past few decades, how far our community has advanced and the issues they see as important today.
We also explore LGBT aging issues in a special online only feature at goqnotes.com. A whole generation of proudly out men and women are aging gracefully into retirement. It’s the first time in history our community must face a variety of aging, healthcare, social and other issues affecting our elder LGBT community members — each of them pioneers in their own right, paving the way for younger generations and the successes we’ve experienced in the decades since Stonewall.
Like Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation of the World War II era, our community has its own. If you were 21 in 1969, you’d be 66 today — part of our very own Greatest Gayest Generation. During your youth, you would have witnessed firsthand the radical changes of the 1960s and, perhaps, joined in the movement toward greater LGBT visibility in the years immediately following Stonewall.
The 1960s were a transformative time for our country. A century after a brutal and polarizing civil war, our nation found itself again grappling with intense debates and struggles over equality and what exactly it meant “to be American.” Issues of race and segregation, women’s equality, debates on the place and meaning of war took center stage, and, in the background, LGBT people waited for our turn.
LGBT advocacy organizing in the U.S. had begun some 40 years prior, with Henry Gerber’s Society for Human Rights. Gerber’s group quickly disbanded under the weight of legal oppression, but by the 1950s, new groups — like the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis — stepped up. In 1965, New York and D.C. chapters of Mattachine and the Daughters, along with Philadelphia’s Janus Society, would hold the first gay protest at the White House. That same year, they began their Annual Reminder, gathering peacefully each July 4 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Three years prior to Stonewall, transgender community members in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco would hold their own riot, fighting with police officers who attempted to arrest them as they ate at Compton’s Cafeteria.
The Compton Cafeteria Riot would come to be largely overlooked in mainstream LGBT history, with Stonewall taking its place as the “birth” of the modern LGBT movement. Of course, it’s obvious Stonewall wasn’t the beginning of our movement, but it did serve as sort of a flash point. As transgender community members, drag queens, street hustlers and poor neighborhood youth rioted against police harassment in Greenwich Village, the media, for the first time, took notice of the radical shift. No longer quiet. No longer passive. No longer closeted. For the second time, this time in the nation’s largest city, LGBT people had stood up in defiance of the legal and social oppression that had marked every portion of their lives.
As news of the Stonewall Riots spread across the country, LGBT organizers took notice. Mattachine — radical in its quest for equality in the 1950s — found itself on the conservative end of the queer political spectrum from nearly day one post-Stonewall. On the third day of the riots, Mattachine posted a sign at the iconic bar: “We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village — Mattachine.” The group talked with the mayor’s office and police, working to end the protests and riots in the Village. And, while the uprising soon ended, nothing could stop the coming awakening of LGBT activism in the weeks, months and years to follow.
One week after the Riots, the Annual Reminder would be held just one more time. That November, LGBT groups comprising the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations voted to move the Annual Reminder from Philadelphia to New York City and from July 4 to the last weekend of June, coinciding with the first anniversary of Stonewall. That next year, the very first Christopher Street Liberation Day march was held on June 28, 1970 — giving rise to our modern-day Pride parades and other celebrations.
In the more than four decades since, our community has changed. The leaders interviewed this issue say they look back in wonder at what our community has been able to accomplish. But, that progress has given way, in some respects, to complacency. We’re less radical and we’re less committed to liberation. At times, we seem more concerned with assimilation.
Yet, the need for radical liberation is as important today as it was in 1969. Forty-five years after Stonewall, we have moved forward at breakneck pace toward full equality in marriage, equal treatment in healthcare, in housing and at our workplaces. We still have far more work to do in these areas, but others, too, deserve our attention more than ever. At the forefront and immediately apparent, our elder community members’ needs are mounting. LGBT groups like SAGE and their various local chapters and other local organizers are turning their attention to these needs, as mainstream groups like the AARP too realize the importance of these issues.
And, more broadly, our community faces a variety of intersecting challenges and opportunities. Racism, sexism and classism plague our community. Transphobia — from both LGB and staight corners — has kicked into high gear as trans-identified members of our community finally begin to see attention granted toward and forward movement on their issues. Our economic system has created growing challenges for those living in poverty, including our own LGBT siblings, whom the UCLA Law School Williams Institute estimates face a variety of higher risks and find themselves much more vulnerable to poverty than their heterosexual peers.
At other intersections of prejudice, LGBT people — particularly those living in poverty and people of color — find themselves concerned with issues going largely unaddressed by the largest of our mainstream LGBT advocacy organizations.
The school-to-prison pipeline, long a concern of the African-American community, disproportionately affects LGBT young people, too. Thirteen percent or more of the youth in juvenile detention facilities identify as LGBT. Prejudice and systems discrimination still present in youths’ homes and churches, in schools, in local government agencies, in courts and elsewhere deny many of our young people the chance to succeed in their academic careers, putting them on the path toward homelessness, poverty and prison.
Undocumented immigrants who identify as LGBT — some 260,000 or more adults in the U.S. today — encounter daily legal and social challenges, many facing similar obstacles as other minority communities in accessing good jobs, affordable housing, solid educational opportunities and health care. Despite reforms on the national level offering marriage equality, and therefore legal immigration status to some, many LGBT immigrants still face the very real threat of deportation, separating their families and, for many, sending them back to home nations unfriendly or even deathly hostile to LGBT people.
For far too long, many in our community have stored our agenda and the issues we deem important in a silo. “These aren’t LGBT issues,” they might say about poverty, the criminal justice system or immigration. But, I have another view — a reborn rallying cry that renews the original liberationist spirit of Stonewall and Pride: We’re here. We’re Queer. And we leave no one behind.
As we each reflect on Pride and Stonewall this month and this year, I’ll join in on the celebrations of our accomplishments. With you, I’ll revel in the fun of attending Pride parades and festivals and joyfully join thousands of others in an open celebration and affirmation of who we are. But, I hope you will also pause and dwell with me on a truer meaning of Pride and Stonewall. Pride certainly can be a party, but it should be far more than that, as I’m sure Pride event organizers across the state and world will tell you. Pride should serve as a reminder, not wholly unlike those Annual Reminders of the 1960s, that as a community, a nation and a world, we have a long way to travel before we can truly say each of us is liberated from oppression.
On this 45th anniversary of Stonewall, let’s recommit ourselves toward greater and grander visions of liberation. Let’s truly live out and push far and wide for the spirit of Stonewall. : :