Gay Rights, Past and Present
By Martin Candelaria
We are the Stonewall girls
I discovered my "Gay Pride" when I was 22. My friends and I were standing across the street from Charlie's country and western bar in Denver during my first Gay Pride Parade. That day I finally met people to whom, for the first time, I was able to tell the story I had repressed for many years about rape and sexual molestation that occurred during my gay youth. It wasn't just a booth offering consolation, it was a tent where people could enter freely and tell their story without fear of being shamed or misunderstood. I heard my first political speeches and understood what it meant to be a part of a community that I felt connected to.
It was so empowering to join 20,000 Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Bisexual, Transgendered and straight people in raising our fists in the air for the minute of silence to commemorate all the people who had died of AIDS. I was introduced to people who provided me with so much knowledge and alternative ways of thinking. It opened my eyes to see groups of people from Germany and Canada gather in the streets with so many Americans.
This, I realized, was a worldwide movement.
The modern Gay Rights Movement began in the '50s with national organizations such as the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis. The movement's watershed moment, though, occurred during the Stonewall riots.
Back in the '60s, in New York City gay bars were illegal. The Mafia ran them, and police regularly raided such establishments and jailed all the clientele.
During the night of June 27, 1969, officers raided a bar called The Stonewall Inn for the umpteenth time, and the customers were sick of it. Nobody is quite sure who threw the first blow, but somehow the people getting arrested started fighting back, eventually barricading the police inside the bar.
The Tactical Patrol Force (TPF)—a type of riot squad—was called in to assist but was met with protesters who began throwing change at them, symbolizing the payoffs the police received from the Mafia to maintain the gay bars. As the TPF began their arm-in-arm advances to try to clear the streets, the gathering crowd did not disperse. Instead, it increased in size. To avoid the billy clubs, protesters doubled back and came in behind the officers. Every time the police tried to turn around and begin their dispersal tactics again, they were met with more protesters, including Rockettes-style kicking drag queens chanting the song that began this article, along with "gay power!"
It's this historic event that is commemorated by the nationwide celebration of Gay Pride Day. But if the Stonewall riots hadn't happened in the late '60s, something similar very likely would have occurred during the '80s and the AIDS crisis. The gay liberation movement was inevitable. A society that prides itself on liberty simply could not continue to ignore the lack of freedom endowed on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered (GLBT) people.
We homo-folk come from every race, ethnicity, nationality and culture, and we are raised within all the different religions of the world. For this reason, perhaps, we aren't always as unified as we need to be to enact the kind of change that will allow us to be recognized as full and equal citizens by mainstream society. Without the AIDS crisis, gay marriage or some other pressing political concern to bind us together, many GLBT folks are too quick to judge against our own kind.
Of course, the bigger problem is a mainstream society that hasn't yet deigned to fully accept us for who we are. GLBT individuals from all walks of life contribute enormously to our nation, so it's only fair that we be accepted by our nation.
What would our country look like if it weren't for the contributions made by all races, ethnicities and sexual orientations? This is the question we must ask our community leaders when they attempt to legislate against us. It's also the question we must keep in our minds when our sisters and brothers pass by us during this year's Gay Pride parade.
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