The Importance of Knowing Your History: Stonewall Riots Anniversary

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which sparked a large national conversation about LGBT rights and is largely credited with launching the movement as we know it today.

Frequenters of the Stonewall Inn (in New York) stood up to police harassment and random raids that often targeted LGBT people and sought to undermine their ability to gather in similar bar establishments. In the wee hours of June 28, 1969, during a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, many of the patrons fought back against police attempts to shut down the bar and arrest them for “deviant” behavior, among other things.

Coverage of the riots went national, as outlets like the New York TimesNew York Daily News and others made the resistance efforts front page news. Attention to the plight of LGBTs received unprecedented national attention, sparking the creation of local organizations, newsletters and further civil disobedience efforts to further the community’s interests.

In fact, Pride Parades as we know them today were originally intended to commemorate the riots as a show of solidarity and rallying cry for rights and recognition. I’m reminded of that every time I attend the parade in Chicago, which happened this past weekend.

Yet, still, many queer folks in my generation dismiss the importance of the parades and the “gay ghettos,” saying they defeat the purpose of achieving the equality so desired by activists. While there are aspects to be improved upon, making a sweeping criticism without knowledge of how those things came to be does a great deal of disrespect to the many ancestors, elders, predecessors, etc. that made it possible for guys to stroll down city streets hand-in-hand with the man they love and not be pounced on by police.

Even with the knowledge of the Stonewall Riots, some folks assume that the types of activists seen in the mainstream today are the same ones who were rioting that evening. In fact, there were many trans* persons, drag queens, cross dressers, people of color and others who participated.

In the Huffington Post today, one such rioter recalls his experience and reflects upon that moment’s significance to him personally:

They fought back that night, probably because the police targeted the drag queens and transvestites when making the arrests. They were all pretty, prissy, and made up, with their tight dresses and high heels…

I’d encourage you to read it, share it with your friends and perhaps thank an LGBT elder you know for helping pave the way for the freedoms and privileges you enjoy today. And that’s regardless if you identify in the community or not. The fact that many in my generation have the ability to come out and speak (and write) openly about these issues and build friendships with our hetero friends and allies as our complete selves, on the whole, is a testament to what many of our LGBT predecessors said and did on our behalf.

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