A lifetime ago there were millions of young people who worked very hard for women’s rights and civil rights, (which at that time meant Black rights) and student rights. They spent time marching against a war considered immoral, and injustices of all kinds and shapes, including the right for people to vote at eighteen. Even in the sixties, when people were protesting about every inequality, Gay and Lesbian rights had no voice. Gay young people often lived on the streets, having been thrown out of their blue-collar homes by their families before they finished high school. They migrated to the Village because they’d heard it was one American neighborhood where it was safe to be who they were.
So, it turns out that for this disenfranchised group, the only voice of outrage expressed in those turbulent days, was at the Stonewall Inn in New York City in 1969. The Stonewall uprising has come to be seen as a defining event in the development of the gay rights movement. It was the first time that gay men fought back against a pattern of police harassment. But that uprising, which really marked the beginning of what we know as the Gay Rights movement, got little coverage and little attention. Here’s what happened in June of 1969. The local NYPD 6th, which often raided the Stonewall but gave them warning, relinguished their authority to NYPD 1st Divison, who raided the Stonewall on the 24th of June. There were no arrests. They then decided to come back on the 27th, but much to police surprise, the Gay community fought back and barricaded the Stonewall with garbage cans and fire. While there were no serious injuries, they certainly made a point.
Stonewall “wasn’t a 1960s student protest,” wrote, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. “In 1969: The Year of Gay Liberation, these kids had “no nice dorms for sleeping, no school cafeteria for certain food and no affluent parents to send checks. They had no powerful allies of any kind, no rights, no future. But they were brave. They risked their necks to prove the mystery of history could happen in the least likely of places.”
After the Stonewall riots, when the community realized their was strength in their outrage and numbers, they started to organize. And in June of 1970 the community organized the first Gay march. It started at the Stonewall, progressed up 6th Avenue and finished as a rally in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park. Invitations, rather than flyers, were sent for people to attend the Christopher Street Liberation Day. Eventually, that march evolved into the Pride parade which ultimately started in mid-town on 5th Ave and finished in the Village.
Frank Rich wrote a most interesting piece in the NY Times on Sunday in which he talks about the Obama administration, which came to office promising to protect gay rights but so far has not done much, quite the contrary. They actually struck a blow for the other side last week when it submitted a disturbing brief in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which is the law that protects the right of states to not recognize same-sex marriages and denies same-sex married couples federal benefits. The administration needs a new direction on gay rights.
And here it is 2009, forty years have passed. Things have improved a bit. Some 57% of the population is in favor of gay marriage and outlawing discrimination against the gay and lesbian community. Jordan Kai Burnett, a straight person, won the talent show at the Stonewall and won the opportunity to ride on the Stonewall float in the Pride Parade. A glorious day. She considered it an honor, as did her friends and her parents. (Here is a gallery of images from Sunday's parade, and Jordan on the Stonewall float)
It’s time for all of us to protest any legislation that discriminates against another human being. It’s time for all of us to fight for, rather than against human rights—every human – without qualification. We’re just sayin’... Iris