THE SIGNIFICANCE OF STONEWALL

June 28 – July 3rd, 1969 marks a point in time where everything changed. Now, 51 years later, and while June has become known as Pride Month, typically marked with parades and events celebrating the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, it’s important to remember that Pride started off as a protest. The parallels to the events following the murder of George Floyd is inescapable, especially amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter rallies and demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality all across the country.

1969 was a summer of upheaval, of change. While some of us were in Berkeley out in the Bay Area and still reeling from the after effects of People’s Park just a few weeks before, the Stonewall riots – no revolution! – began as a result of ongoing police raids at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, one of the only safe spaces where LGBTQ+ people could gather in community.

As George M. Johns  writes in them. “Pride is and always was about rebellion, and this year more than ever, this year, Pride is different.  It’s not a corporate parade or a party. It’s an uprising, and it’s up to white queer people to protect the Black community as they demand justice.”  The intersectionality of Stonewall’s uprising was “Led by Black and Brown trans and queer folks” who were tired of the policing, the raids on their lives and the surveillance.  We must recognize the courage of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, and others there that night who fought back — and fought for their lives, igniting the change for LGBTQ+ people, that this charge was largely led by people of color, poor folk who lived on the street.  Johnson and Rivera literally put themselves out there, in front of the police in a monumental moment of self-sacrifice, putting their bodies and their well-being on the line for the collective good, creating a model for activism across all movements. One of the great things about these leaders being re-centered as part of the narrative is that it has created this intersectional approach to how we should do activism.

Fast forward, and the LGBTQ+ community as well as people of all races, genders and sexualities are protesting and calling out the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others, as well as Tony McDade, a black transgender man killed by the police.  By refocusing on those most marginalized, this is an enormous moment in time to see real substantial systematic progress.

GLAAD’s President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis says that the “LGBTQ movement really caught fire [with] allies coming on. We need black voices leading this, and we need the activists who have been leading this for years and years and years to point us in the right direction.”

While there’s still a long way to go, much of the Movement’s groundwork for a blueprint of how we should move forward was laid by such activists as Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and others.

And our conversations have changed as a result. Now we’re talking more about why we should center black lives in this conversation because everyday people are taking to challenging these conversations at their own dinner tables. Those changes could lead to a larger cultural and political shift that leads to redirecting millions of dollars put into police departments to other, much-needed programs, like education and healthcare in elevating this consciousness-raising to a mainstream level.

Stonewall helped ignite this intersectional movement, one in which Black Lives Matter is intertwined.  We must all think about the narrative of where we’ve come from and to realize that starting exactly where we are, at our kitchen tables with our families, our communities, our chosen loved ones, this is where those conversations start. And from there, we can build on being activists or to be a co-conspirator to the Movement. But we must act; we must be consistent, and we must do the uncomfortable work of checking and challenging conversations.

Personally, I hold great hope for the leaders who are even now organizing and creating new paradigms of engagement, building a community greater than its parts.  Yet, reflecting about the many insurrections against authority that arose in the 1960s, People’s Park in Berkeley – the one I had great hope for at the time –  is probably the only one that came to no discernible conclusion. Nobody won, and after more than 50 years the rallying cry of “People’s Park” lives on because the plot of land is still undeveloped and continues to be in dispute.

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