Celebrate Stonewall, Celebrate Change

Yesterday New Yorkers celebrated the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the uprising credited as the beginning of the LGBTQ liberation movement.

I wasn’t aware of it until my friend Kate told me about it, and like so many movements, this one appears to have started by accident. On June 28th, 1969, patrons at an unlicensed, speakeasy type gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, protested a police raid and kicked off days of protests.

The event is credited as a turning point. “It kindled a sustained burst of organizing that changed the tone and volume of LGBTQ activism, and it altered how some people saw themselves in a society that had relegated many to shadows and shame.”

A year later, New Yorkers celebrated the riot with the Christopher Street Liberation Day March. Christopher Street is where the former and current Stonewall Inn is located. The initial event gave birth to the Gay Liberation Front and a number of similar groups including a transgender advocacy organization founded by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Both recently received posthumous statues in Greenwich Village for their contributions.

It’s sad that violence is often the catalyst for good – the New York Police Department actually apologized for the raid this month – but I suppose fire-y emotions are necessary when you’re pushing for change on a grand scale. Perhaps on some level humans need anger and struggle to give birth to progress.

What’s always saddening to me is, even in the midst of celebrations like this, no matter how much progress has been made, I know there’s a lot more that needs to happen for us to share parity and peace. I can’t help but think about how frustrated and tired and lonely and hurt people had to be before things changed – and how we still suffer even now.

I don’t know much about gay rights, nor the gay struggle, but I think I can relate at least a bit. The roots of the gay rights movement hold enough similarities to the struggles black women face for me to be empathetic and supportive. I’ve never understood a narrow focus or insistence on getting involved in who adults are sleeping with. To me that falls very neatly into the “none of your damn business” box. Love, in all its many forms, is not something that I feel should be judged. It’s too rare, too diverse, too important to limit or forbid for arbitrary reasons like tradition.

That sounds good, right? But I have to be completely honest. While I support everyone’s right to do and say what they like with whoever they like as long as they aren’t hurting anyone, I have trouble watching two black men kissing each other in public, for example. I know it’s exactly that kind of thing that has caused a lot of really deep, life altering, or life taking, problems for non-heterosexual black men too.

But the difference between me and someone who might feel the same way only skew negative is, while I don’t necessarily want to watch, I don’t think it’s bad. I don’t think those two black men are wrong. I don’t think they should be prohibited from kissing each other in public, and I most certainly believe they should be allowed to marry, benefit from all laws and policies, and be protected from abuse and discrimination. I believe the balls in my court to simply look away, or to ask myself the hard questions to discern why I feel a certain way and whether or not my behavior needs to be altered.

The older I get, the simpler things get: Leave people alone. If we are all expected to follow the same rules of society, work, not commit crimes, pay taxes, be polite, etc., we should all be allowed to do what they want – within reason.

The Stonewall Inn rebellion of 1969 didn’t end in any fatalities, but too many LGBTQ people to count have lost their lives since then, and the reasons why are neither complex nor particularly interesting. The problem is very basic – many of us simply don’t want to change. But change is one of the few things that we can be absolutely certain of. Why not embrace it?

The Democratic debates offered a great sample of change: non-Hispanic reps trying to speak Spanish, women fearlessly calling men on the carpet for past behavior – Kamala Harris, we see you – Julian Castro mentioning trans people in his comments about reproductive health, which is a first, as far as I know.

See? It’s inevitable. People change, policies, laws, beliefs, these things should naturally change along with them. If we have to fight to bring about certain changes, we will. Someone will be there on the other end to celebrate the win.

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