A 50-year reflection on Pride
I am going to assume that most of our readers were around in 1969. For those of you who weren’t, pay attention. For those of you who were, do you remember what event took place on June 28, 1969?
Would it help if I gave you a location? The Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City, New York.
If you still don’t remember, I’m here to tell you that this time and this location is where a revolution began for Equality.
At the time, there were many laws allowing discrimination by police and employers. Raids by police were very common all across the county and members of the LGBTQ+ community were treated as lesser people. Queer poor, working class, young, and homeless people were affected the most as they had little or no money to fight back against the discrimination they faced, and very few lawyers, if any, would represent a gay person in a court of law.
The Stonewall Inn opened in 1967. It was a mob owned and run gay club in New York City. This was a place where gay men and women could be safe and free from the backlash they received from their fellow Americans. The Mob payed off the police to allow it to continue to operate, but there were frequent raids, and almost constant underwhelming amenities.
In the decades preceeding the particular raid that happened on June 28, 1969, a strong number of Americans were hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. Same sex relations were illegal in the state of New York and a criminal statute was in place in order to allow police to arrest people “wearing less than three gender-appropriate articles of clothing,” which to me sounds absolutely ridiculous but hey, I wasn’t around at that time, and I’m pretty thankful for that. You could also be beaten or killed simply for not being straight or cis-gender. No lawyer would represent an LGBT person for fear they would lose their jobs.
Because of these ridiculous laws, LGBT folks of all flavors felt slightly more safe in the few gay bars and clubs that existed at the time, including the Stonewall Inn, than in public. It was a large space where drag queens, homeless and runaway gay youths and many others were able to feel welcomed and safe, but in not so great conditions. There wasn’t a fire escape, the bar didn’t wash their glasses and didn’t maintain the bathroom very well, among other things. But it’s where people felt safe, so they kept coming.
Early that morning of June 28, police raided the club, roughed up patrons, and arrested 13 people, including employees, for violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute. Officers would take suspected cross-dressing patrons into the bathroom for invasive exams to check their sex.
This is where the LGBT community and their straight allies had enough of the lifetime of discrimination, and within minutes, a riot ensued involving hundreds of people. Drag Queens, patrons, and allies threw pennies at the “coppers” and eventually started throwing cobblestones and bricks. The marginalized community was fed up with being continually terrorized by the police and society in their own communities.
Both Sylvia Rivera, a Latina-American Drag Queen and transgender, and Marsha P. Johnson, another transgender Drag Queen, among many others, were prominent figures in the Stonewall Uprising, and made profound impacts on advocacy organizations for members of the LGBTQ communities.
Members of the Mob (the Genovese family), who owned the Stonewall Inn, tried to burn it down to deter the police from raiding the place.
Eventually, the fire department and riot squad were able to put out the fire after almost an hour.
This is a huge piece of what began an LGBT revolution. Protests with thousands of people began, covering the area for over six days. Other activist groups joined in what is recognized as the birth of the fight for equality and visibility. From that, LGBTQ+ political activism sprung, leading to the beginning of numerous LGBTQ+ rights organizations including the Gay Liberation Front, Human Rights Campaign, GLADD?(Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and so many others.
On the first year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a peaceful organized parade/march from the Stonewall Inn to Central Park took place. What started small at the beginning of the day, grew and grew as more supporters joined. By the time they reached Central Park, thousands had joined in solidarity.
In 2016, the Stonewall Inn and surrounding streets were designated as a national monument in recognition of the area’s contribution to gay and human rights.
June is Pride Month for our LGBTQ+ friends and family members. This is the month where beautiful Pride parades and celebrations happen all across the country (and world) where people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and pansexual can express their freedoms in our country after decades and decades of discrimination, violence, and persecution.
But 50 years later, members of the LGBTQ+ community still have to fight to be heard, to be seen, and to be safe from persecution by their peers.
In my years of living in Blue Earth, we have been fairly silent with regard to our LGBT brothers, sisters, friends, and students. It’s almost as if this community would rather not discuss the topic, brush over it, and just accept people for who they are as long as they are fairly silent about the topic.
Have our schools had any formal group to show support of our students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer? Have our communities welcomed queer families to our neighborhoods? And if not, what does that say about our future as a community?
I grew up in the school district. I know the bullying and silent discrimination some of my friends went through based on their identity. Those members of this community ran for the hills, and sparsely return to the area (perhaps to visit friends or family briefly and return to their communities where they feel welcomed and safe).
It’s my opinion that if we wish to see our communities here in Faribault County grow, perhaps we should strive to be a little more inclusive and accepting of others. It’s 2019, for Pete’s sake.
According to national surveys, the majority of Americans now support gay rights and laws, while a small minority still make it difficult for people to live their own lives.
We have room to grow in this county, so much room. And that includes supporting our students and kids and neighbors who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. It can be an extremely hard and confusing time for our young folks.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 24, and LGBTQ+ youth are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers because of persecution from family and friends and not being loved for who they are. That’s heartbreaking, to me.
And for those of you reading this who have had backlash from your friends or family for your orientation or gender identity, I want you to know you have a friend in me. I want you to know you are not alone. I want you to know that there are people in our community who love and accept you. To all my LGBTQIA+ family, know I love you and I’m always here fighting for equality and basic human rights for you.
Perhaps in the future, our citizens will be able to see storefronts with rainbow window displays, townships partaking in their own Pride Parades and celebrations, and hundreds of families being more and more accepting of their family members and their children.
At least, that’s what I hope, and that’s what the people who protested 50 years ago in New York hoped for, too.
This June, I hope you are able to reflect on how far this country has come for our LGBTQ+ family members and friends that live here and how far we still have to go. I hope we, as a community, can also strive to respect, accept, and appreciate the historical impact the Stonewall Riots and many other movements have had on us.
Prairie Lakes Pride is an independent LGBT support group based out of Fairmont. Find them on Facebook, if you or someone you love is looking for a supportive, inclusive community. If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, the Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people under 25.
Be careful who you hate, it could be someone you love.