Have you ever have been in a Gay Pride Parade? Do you know why people are were able to?
On June 28, 1969 the Stonewall Riots took place at the Stonewall Inn at 51 Christopher Street in New York City, sparking a civil rights movement for LGBT community in the United States. Let’s look at what you could expect in America at this time, and why the anger was boiling just below the surface for so many LGBT people in the US:
Forty-three years ago here is what an LGBT person in the United States could expect:
- Your name (along with all of your friends and family members) would be put on a list by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, because as a homosexual you were “prone” to blackmail and “overt acts of perversion”
- The United States Post Office also kept your name on a list to monitor any homosexual “paraphernalia” you were receiving so they could tip off the police and have you arrested
- You would be dishonorably discharged from the military, fired from your government job or job as a teacher or professor at a college if you were suspected of being gay with no legal recourse
- Your neighborhood would be “swept” periodically to arrest you and anyone else who was a presumed homosexual or wore clothes not “for” their gender
- The American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a sociopath personality disturbance and you were considered mentally infirm (this did not change until 1973).
- You could be arrested for holding hands in public with your partner
There were no legal places where LGBT people could get together either so organized crime stepped in and opened the few gay bars that existed in New York City. A gay bar could expect to be raided at least once a month, no matter what “payoff” they gave to the NYPD. The Stonewall Inn was one of those bars.
Owned by the Genovese crime family who turned it into a gay bar in 1963, it had no running water (the glasses were dunked into standing tubs of water) lacked proper toilets and was one of the only places in New York City you could go dance, with a light “cue” on the dance floor that turned on when the police showed up to inform patrons to stop dancing and touching. It is no surprise that in this tense, repressed, bigoted atmosphere that something was going to give.
In the wee hot hours of June 28, 1969 the police did a typical, routine raid on Stonewall Inn, but the night did not end as they expected. Fed up with being bullied, harassed and otherwise pushed around and denied the basic freedoms everyone else had – something snapped for the men and women at Stonewall. Those lined up along the walls inside of Stonewall refused to show their ID or identify their gender.
Those who were not arrested went outside the bar and did not leave. Instead they hung around and soon the crowd grew to ten times it’s size – and very quiet. An unidentified lesbian was brought out after being hit in the head with a billy club for complaining that her handcuffs were too tight, she shouted to the crowd, “Do something!” and the crowd did, pelting the officers with bottles, pennies and whatever else they could find and shouting phrases like “Gay power!” and singing “We shall Overcome.” The police immediately tried to disperse the crowd, calling in a Tactical Police Force, but the crowd grew larger as patrons from other nearby bars (straight and gay) joined in the fray. The rioting lasted until around 4am.
By the time it was over the officer in charge of the raid, Inspector Pine, had his wanted result anyway, a burned and completely trashed Stonewall Inn.
What he did not expect was the outpouring of sympathy and empathy that came from New Yorkers toward the LGBT community in the days that followed. For five days after the initial riot people gathered in Christopher Park to discuss plan, organize and demonstrate.
The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was created as well as numerous publications, support groups, open LGBT dances and the birth of the first Gay Pride March in 1970.
In 7 countries, same sex acts are even punishable by death.
In almost all countries, freedom for people to live out and to express their true gender identities – and to have them rightfully recognised by the state – is harshly limited by transphobic laws and attitudes.
But even in progressive countries, violence and discrimination against LGBT people still exists in the form of discriminatory laws, unjust representations in the media, unfair treatment by employers, negative social attitudes, and even in everyday interactions with people we care about, and who care about us.
Homophobia and transphobia target all people who don’t conform to majority sexual and gender
roles, and they affect the lives of everyone – to express themselves and their opinions freely, and to have the rights of their, friends, family members, and loved one’s recognised.
In 1994, a coalition of education-based organizations in the United States designated October as LGBT History Month.
In 1995, a resolution passed by the General Assembly of the National Education Association included LGBT History Month within a list of commemorative months.
LGBT History Month is also celebrated with annual month-long observances of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, along with the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements.
National Coming Out Day (October 11), as well as the first “March on Washington” in 1979, are commemorated in the LGBT community during LGBT History Month.
The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (marked on May 17) was created in 2004 to draw the attention of policy makers, opinion leaders, social movements, the media, and the public in general to these issues, and to promote a world of tolerance, respect and freedom regardless of people’s sexual orientations or gender identities.
As much as May 17 is a day against violence and oppression, it is also a day to promote freedom, diversity and acceptance.
The date of May 17 was chosen to commemorate the decision taken by the World Health organization in 1990 to take homosexuality out of the list of mental disorders.