Remembering Stonewall

Jun 23, 2019 | Life | 0 comments

Country reflects on Importance of Stonewall Riots: 50 years later

by Julia Freeman

I asked several LGBTQ leaders the significance of Stonewall in their lives. What I got in
return was a fantastic outpouring of perspectives that range from those with lived experience
to those that are still learning about the prolificness of the events on American history. Please
enjoy the reflection and hopes for the future outlined by each person.

” When it comes to starting a movement, it often takes a force to break the holds that are
hindering the motion. The riots at Stonewall were the tipping point for that movement. Some
movements begin in a courtroom, some at the podium, others in academia, and others as a
direct response to overt oppression. How long can a population of people endure abuse,
disrespect, and violence before getting to the breaking point? Look at the treatment of the
LGBTQ community leading up to the riot. For these folks, it rose up or risk death in many
cases. It was a rebellion of survival. Now, much of the movement takes place in courtrooms or
on the floors of our state legislatures. I’m proud to be the elected voice that many in the LGBTQ
community need right now on these issues. We’ve come a long way over the last fifty years,”
explained Brianna Titone, Colorado’s first openly transgender state legislator.

“In my mind, this specific Gay Liberal March and riots are as important to LGBTQ+ rights
as the American Civil War is to slavery. While it’s not the first or only thing done to help turn
things around, they both served as significant moments that broke the ground in paving the way
to equality. I walk around today, identifying as a male, wearing masculine clothing, medically
transitioning, and I’m not in jail. We aren’t far from a time where being our most authentic selves
would have you assaulted and arrested by police. I couldn’t be transitioning during a better era
than now, and I have every LGBTQIA+ before me to thank for it! Hopefully, people will be saying
the same thing 5, 10, 20 even 50 years from now, as well,” says advocate Kwynton DeLarm.

“In January 2014 Laverne Cox came to the University of Kentucky to give a talk about
her life and career. In the end, she had a question and answer session where I got to ask her,
“when do you think the transgender community will have their ‘Rosa Parks’ moment?” She
answered, “I believe we’ve already had it and it occurs at Stonewall. She said that I should read
more about what happened and how transgender women of color lead the rebellion.” I began to
read everything that I could about what occurred on and around June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall
Inn in New York City. In just the past few years, those real heroines of the movement are finally
being recognized. Even though the discrimination and bigotry that happened to those
transgender individuals in the 1960’s hasn’t disappeared, and may never, we should honor
those who stood up against the oppression by speaking out against those who hate us every
chance that we can. Visibility without activism is useless,” Kentucky transgender rights activist
Tuesday Meadows shared.

Shawna Virago, the songwriter, explains, “The Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 was a series of
revolutionary acts, instigated largely by trans women of color, against the chronic abuses of law
enforcement against NYC’s queer communities. This trailblazing event has come to mean
different things to different people. For some it’s become a white-washed event that happened a
long time ago and now is about corporate run Pride parades that welcome law enforcement
agencies, despite their legacies of institutional violence against trans people and people of
color, to participate in them. For others, including myself, Stonewall is an uprising, a shout out
against oppression, that said trans justice cannot be separated from racial justice. And given the
ongoing murders of transgender women of color, and the murders of young unarmed Black men
by law enforcement, this message remains true, and our struggles continue.”

“If you’re LGBTQ, Stonewall represents the “shot heard round the world.” It was a
moment when society’s “Other” fought back and said, “Enough!” Enough with harassment and
arrests simply because we wanted to live authentically! Enough with slurs, legalized
discrimination, and marginalization! Enough with being beaten or killed just by virtue of walking
down a street! And, finally, enough with not being able to marry the person we love! Stonewall
was the start of everything that we queer folk have today,” added author and public speaker
Ellie Krug.

Plastic Martyr, a reality tv star and musician, says, “Stonewall helped pave the way for me
to walk proudly as a transgender woman, it helped give me a voice to speak my truth, it helped
give me legs to stand up for my rights, and it gave me the courage and inspiration to continue to
fight for LGBTQ equality.”

“I was 8 during the Stonewall rebellion, a trans kid terrified of doing anything that might
suggest I wasn’t really the boy everyone thought I was. I don’t remember hearing about them,
but if I had, I wouldn’t have identified with the courageous queens and queers who stood up to
the police. I didn’t identify with anyone when I was growing up, and I certainly wouldn’t have
seen myself in people who dared to be themselves, break the rules, and stand up to
authority. It wasn’t until decades later, when I was finally living my trans identity and learning
about trans history, that I realized that without Stonewall, I might never have felt safe enough to
make the transition from living as a man to living as a woman. Thanks to Marcia P. Johnson,
Sylvia Rivera, and others who put their bodies on the line, by the time I transitioned, trans
people had organized, fought for and won legal protections and social recognition that kept me
from being fired, thrown out of my apartment, beaten up or arrested for using public restrooms. I
was lucky, of course. I work and live in New York and Massachusetts, among the safest states
for trans people, and I came out years before the current backlash against trans rights. But the
heroes of Stonewall kicked open the door, and we, their political and spiritual children, are not
about to let that door be locked again,” commented Joy Ladin, the first openly transgender
employee of an Orthodox Jewish institution (Yeshiva University).

Ash Beckham, speaker, and author, says, “It is impossible to overstate the importance of
the Stonewall Riots in the battle for gay rights. To fully understand the impact, you must
understand the bar. As revisionist history often does, the edges get softened over time.
Stonewall wasn’t just any gay bar. It was a place for folks marginalized within the gay
community-trans people, underage and homeless kids, queens, queers of color, people who
were not accepted in the traditional gay bars. Stonewall was the only place they belonged. So
when the police raided it, the patrons fought back with the intensity of protecting their home.
The Stonewall “regulars” were the most vulnerable and most ostracized within the gay
community, and yet they sparked the movement. As we continue down the path of equality, it is
our responsibility always to be conscious of the people we are excluding. We cannot demand
inclusivity while simultaneously acting as gatekeepers for who gets to be part of the movement.
That hypocrisy not only limits our personal growth and the scope of our cause-it’s not cute!”
“Stonewall was the culmination of growing unrest over anti-LGBT police harassment
across America. The 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco and the 1967 Black Cat
Tavern protests in Los Angeles both set the stage for what became Stonewall’s tipping point,
marking a nationwide shift in how LGBT people organized politically. We all stand on the
shoulders of the most marginalized members of our community. If it were not for their resolve,
we would not have the rights and privileges we enjoy today,” Andrea James, writer, filmmaker,
and transgender rights activist said.

Dawn Flynn, the pastor of New Life Metropolitan Community Church in North Carolina,
states that “In June of 1969 I was in my first semester at Olivet College in Olivet, Michigan in
my sophomore year, having just transferred from Michigan Christian College in Rochester,
Michigan. I had nearly flunked out of Michigan State University due to my drinking and gender
dysphoria. I didn’t know if I was a man or a woman. I was a habitual crossdresser, and I was
unable to stop. My failure to stop put me in a depressing spiral. When I heard of the Stonewall
Riots, I became very interested. I had been taught, as a Christian in the Lutheran Church, that
gay (and transgender people) were going to hell as their lifestyle was an abomination to God. I
struggled with that. I couldn’t believe it was true. The Stonewall Riots gave me hope. Here were
gay and transgender folks standing up, fighting the ‘establishment’ and ‘No.’ The world was
taking notice. I was taking notice. I no longer felt alone in my feelings of not belonging. Their
bravery encouraged me to be brave and stand up for myself, whoever I determined I was. And
as time progressed, I eventually, 39 years later, embraced my true self and transitioned into a
woman thanks to the bravery of gay and transgender people of the Stonewall Riots. I firmly
believe the fight for LGBTQ rights today in the United States would still be fighting to get off the
ground. It set the standard for all activists to follow. That is: stand tall, believe in yourself, and
fight for your dignity and respect. Everyone deserves it regardless of gender expression, sexual
orientation, race, or nationality.”

Jessica Bussert, the founder of a medical device start-up, reflected, “So often, being
trans feels like being the red headed step child of the LGBTQ world. Jerks like Milo
Yiannopoulos and the bigots called TERFs sometimes make me feel alone even in my own
community. During those times I like to remind myself that Stonewall was fought by a bunch of
bad-assed bitches just like myself, and the only way the Milos of the world have a voice is
because some pretty incredible transwomen got pissed off and refused to take any more BS
from the man!”

“My goal for transgender people is for us to have the same opportunity to thrive as
everyone else because of who we are, not despite it. All of us should be able to succeed no
matter what we look like, where we come from, how we worship if we do, or who we love. And all
of us should be welcomed, celebrated, respected, and protected because of who we are, not for
what discriminatory people tell us we’re supposed to be. In the words of St. Francis de Sales,
“Be who you are and be that well,” said Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person to be
elected to a state legislature.

“There isn’t a single person in the gay community who doesn’t owe the people involved
in the Stonewall Riots. It’s easily recognized as the beginning of the gay rights movement.
Stonewall started as a place for the edges of the gay community to gather at the time. Everyone
from butcher lesbians to transgender people to drag queens were all welcome. To this day, shows like
ours exist to promote the message and voices of our community from every edge to be sure, as
they did during the riots, that we will not be silenced. We have the honor of hosting a show like
this because of the actions of the brave people who took action starting with the first raid on June 28, 1969.

We will do our best to honor and represent them by furthering the recognition of the
LGBTQIA+ community and all the unique voices we have in it,” added Lissa and Avery, hosts of
The Gays Of Our Lives.

Scottie Jeanette Madden, the author of “Getting Back To Me,” says, “Compton’s Cafeteria,
The Black Cat, Stonewall – these are not places, they are people – They are not riots, they are
The US standing up for ourselves. In today’s world, this gets overlooked in a rush to sell rainbow
flags every June. “Pride” is not “Gay Christmas,” nor “Gay Prom” nor “Gay Coachella” it’s the
day that the resistance started at Comptons, continued at the Black Cat and finding its voice at
Stonewall blossomed into a “movement” that shook open hearts that had been previously
closed in our cis-siblings. For me (and hopefully for all) they serve as the inspiration that our
struggle can, will and does move forward when we stand together to insist and resist… but that
we have to persist. We must follow Miss Major Griffin-Gracey who, (along with Silvia Rivera,
and Marsha P. Johnson) not only sparked the fire with her own blood & sweat but continues to
tend the flame. She could’ve handed over the baton, and nobody would’ve blamed her – she had
fought hard, now take a much-deserved rest-but she’s still at. For all of us. Frustrating as it is,
(that it ain’t over yet) we must all take our place beside her to fan the fire higher until we are all
truly free.”

Along with a list of some exclusive indigenous perspective on the essence of Stonewall
which will be featured in the online edition of GoGuide, Michelle Enfield, Navajo transgender
activist and advocate, contributed, “I love the RIOTS because we are still CELEBRATING!”
Shandi Strong, activist, author, rocker, doing her part to increase trans visibility to make
a difference, says, “I was 8 years old when they happened. I’m sure my parents didn’t even
watch it on the news. I only became aware of the events as an adult, when I came out and
came in contact with new friends in the LGBTTQ community. But what surprised me was how
the story evolved as more and information became available. First it was just “the gays” who
were rioting, and everyone assumed it was just the men, then it was a drag queen who started
it, then a trans person who threw the first brick, later she was identified as a trans woman of
color, and eventually a transwoman of color, who was a sex worker. The story has unveiled itself
to include not only the “who’s” of how it started but the “why’s.” Because when we know more
about the “who” we know more about the reason “why.” As I began my journey as an activist, I
realized what a challenge it is to counter misinformation. Especially when trying to counter the
statement “well everybody just knows that…” in front of an issue that no one really has a full
picture of. So it’s essential to realize that like a photograph, the truth takes time to develop fully and that every black and white image has shades of grey. It’s necessary that as the truth comes
out, we evolve with it, and not to hold onto a hatred of things of the past (the police, for
example). For it colors our view of the different and better world we have today for LGBTTQ
people. If we are going to move forward, we must acknowledge the wrongdoings of history, and
build upon the successes we have had since.”

There is certainly more than meets the senses when discussing the real significance and
impact of Stonewall. But the consensus is that the fight is far from over, but it is and was a mostly
positive influence on the war for equity and equality for LGBTQIA+ persons. We have come so
far, yet there is so much further to go!




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