As much as I continue to disagree with Barack Obama on his economic policies which appear more and more likely to bankrupt this great republic, I could not help but appreciate his reference to the 1969 Stonewall uprising in his inaugural address Monday. The President was absolutely correct. When the history of civil rights in this country and indeed in the world is written, Stonewall will merit more than passing mention.
1969 by happenstance was the year I graduated from high school and was jubilant about leaving Vermont and moving on over to Plymouth State for the happiest years of my life. I certainly wasn't thinking of Stonewall at the time, but it was that summer that long oppressed gay people in New York city--led by a group of drag queens, let the record clearly and proudly indicate--said enough is enough. They demanded their freedoms.
It was four years after Lyndon Johnson had pushed through civil rights and voting rights for blacks. Women were fighting for more equal rights, but to a large extent gay people remained the oppressed minority, the "love that dare not speak its name", shoved so deeply into the closet that most people at the time must have wondered whether the door would ever be open.
The door is open today--maybe not completely but certainly more than a crack--and President Obama is correct--just as surely as we celebrate Seneca Falls and Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, we need to celebrate those who had enough courage to break down the walls at Stonewall.
History moves slowly; it wasn't until well into the 90s with the Lawrence v. Texas decision that two gay people were legally allowed to have sex, even in the privacy of their own homes. At times indeed history seems to move not at all...at least in regard to equal rights for those in the LGBT community, but the strides we have made this past generation are gigantic. Without the pioneers at Stonewall, it might not have happened at all. We stand on the shoulders of giants, these drag queens who said, "No, no more; enough is enough."
If you're interested in Stonewall, it comes up briefly but poignantly in the movie Milk. There are also documentaries which go into much greater detail. I reprint something I googled just to provide a flavor today.
In my ninth term as a State Representative, I can honestly say my proudest moment was that day when I spoke in favor of Jim Splaine's gay marriage bill, and it passed albeit only after reconsideration. (Getting rid of cruelty to greyhounds would be second on my hit parade). The moment is indelibly etched in my memory. As I noted then, equality is good--some dare say it is essential--not only for gay people themselves, but it's also both good and essential for our society. Only when every group is free are we all truly free.
Past discrimination against gay people not only ruined their lives, but it also ruined the lives of their families and friends, including the thousands of women who married gay men who felt the need to appear to be straight.
To the extent it all began at Stonewall; let us never forget the sacrifices made there. To the extent that Barack Obama issued a shout out during his inaugural address, he deserves credit. To the extent that the Republican Party, my party, continues to deny gay people equal rights...well, shame, shame, shame. The GOP majority is on the wrong side of history on this one just like Democrats were on the wrong side of history in the 1850s on the slavery issue, and the emerging Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln, New Hampshire's Salmon Chase, and New York's William Seward were on the right side.
Republicans can take small solace in the fact that when it came to repealing gay marriage last year, a majority of Reps, at least on the final vote, stood up and said no. The party needs to do more and unless is begins to do more, it risks being labeled with the same brush as 19th and 20th century segregationists.
That Obama is so far ahead of Republicans on this issue is both morally and electorally sad for the GOP.
Long Live Stonewall!
40 Years Later: A Look Back at the Turning Point for Gay Rights
For gay and lesbian Americans, June 28, 1969, was the day that changed everything.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, law enforcement officials kept track of suspected homosexuals and places that catered to them. Police regularly raided gay bars, seizing alcohol, shutting down establishments and arresting patrons. It wasn’t uncommon for gay men and lesbians to be exposed in newspapers, fired from their jobs, jailed or sent to mental institutions.
Homosexuality was then considered to be such subversive behavior that it was listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders I as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.”
What Happened at the Stonewall?
On that June night, police entered the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, at 1:20 a.m. and launched a raid.
While the police waited for patrol wagons to cart away the arrested suspects and the seized alcohol, the bar’s patrons began to resist. They refused to follow police orders. Men refused to show their IDs, and men dressed as women refused to accompany female officers to the bathroom to have their gender confirmed.
Those who weren’t arrested exited through the front door, but they didn’t go far. Within a short time, the crowd swelled to an estimated 2,000. As police put the arrested into the wagons that were now on the scene, the crowd threw what they had—pennies, beer bottles, trash cans—at the police and shouted, “Gay power!”
Thirteen people were arrested, and four police officers were injured at Stonewall.
The riots continued for six nights.
The resistance wasn’t planned, nor were the riots that followed.
“Every movement arrives at a moment when people say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” says Michael Adams, executive director of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders, or SAGE. “That was the Stonewall riots for the gay rights movement.”
Martin Boyce, a participant in the riots, shares this sentiment.
“We were feeling anger and resentment, but the big thing was that we had a chance to do something now,” Boyce says. “People got hurt. I got hit in the back with a club. But you could see and feel the person next to you wasn’t going to run.”
“People will point out there were acts of resistance before Stonewall. But those acts of resistance were on a smaller scale,” says David Carter, author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. “This was an act of resistance that was a mass movement. It was mass crowds. These other events were smaller, they weren’t sustained, and they didn’t get in the media. Plus, the Stonewall riots sparked the gay liberation movement, by the founding of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance.”
Frank Kameny, a leader in the gay rights movement, estimates that there were 1,000 organizations formed within a year after Stonewall. After two years, 2,500. After three years, he stopped counting.