Stonewall 50

Posted on June 10, 2019


In June of 1969, I graduated from college. The road ahead seemed clear and straight. I would get married in August and the day after the wedding, my newly-minted husband and I would leave for graduate school in Bloomington, Indiana. I would become a teacher. I would start a family. The years would spool out in love and productivity and travel.

I was, of course, aware of events outside of my own life. I was aware of Vietman. I protested, attended sit ins and wore a black armband during my senior year and at graduation. Shortly before my graduation, an illness took me to the campus clinic. The doctor asked me what my armband signified. I told him it was a protest against the war. I was shocked when this man who I came to for healing asked me if I were prepared to die for the cause. The following year, four Kent State students would, indeed, die for the cause.

I was aware of the issue of women’s inequality. I was part of the infancy of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The race riots of 1964 had occurred in the city in which I lived, Philadelphia. While I was certainly aware of the issues that had created the riots, it didn’t occupy the same level of awareness in me as looking forward to graduating high school and starting college.

The least of my awareness was that of the fight for gay rights. I was less aware of the people in American society who were being marginalized and harrassed on a daily basis. I was less aware of the build up of fear and anger that such marginalization and harrassment would result in. I was less aware of the societal explosions created as a result. I didn’t learn about Stonewall until 50 years after it happened.

With my BS degree in hand and my life ahead of me, I was unaware that in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, in order to “rid the neighborhood of sexual deviants.”

The Stonewall Inn, had, because of its location in the most socially liberal neighborhood of the most socially liberal city in the US, become a magnet for the most marginalized citizens of the country. Gays and transgenders who had, for decades, hidden behind a false “normalcy,” had found both welcome and aunthenticity at Stonewall. And that welcome empowered them to believe they deserved more than they had been getting from society.

The police raid became the catalyst that propelled many gay people, for the first time in their lives, to take action. What began as a so-called “rebellion” or an “uprising” was less that than a call-to-arms, to have the greater society of which they were a part, notice them. And, once that happened, it was impossible to go back to a life of secrecy and denial.

Stonewell did not change attitudes overnight. That would take decades and will continue to take decades more. But it did set in motion a movement that had been a long time coming. In 1970, the first Gay Pride parade was held in New York City, on the one-year anniversary of Stonewell.

Americans pride themselves on being an inclusive society, the often referred to but grossly misnamed “melting pot.” But our history tells us that inclusion has a price. And that price is the fear that change, any kind of change, will negatively impact on those who used to see themselves in charge. We see it now in the support for the current administration. “Make America Great Again,” is the false veener that covers the desire to make America White and Christian and Male and Heterosexual again. Relentlessly, we move forward, against a backdrop of a rise in bigotry and in a diminshment of human rights.

This year, on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, millions of people watched the parade in New York. Over 100,000 people marched. Gay Pride parades were held around the world. The uprising has spawned a movement, and the movement has spawned a tsunami of personal and political awakening.

A close friend of mine marched in Philadelphia. She was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of marchers and attendees, as well as by the sheer numbers of young gay women marching. I asked her if she thought it was a reaction to the current opressive administration. She thought not. She said, “This isn’t about the administration. This generation of gay women is simply different. They are proud. They are committed. And they are empowered.”

The LGBTQ community forces us to be what we have always pretended to be: a country in which every single human life is valued and every single human life has a voice. They do this by raising their own voices and proclaiming their own value. If we listen and if we understand, the benefits are then bestowed on all of us.

Posted in: commentary, politics