By Stuart Kaplan, Board Member
The LGBT community has made tremendous strides toward greater societal inclusion and equality in the last dozen or so years. Most recently, the freedom to marry has spread in the states with almost dizzying speed as state constitutional bans against marriage equality get struck down in the courts. Against this backdrop of significant progress it is helpful to remind ourselves of historical events that now stand out as key milestones. One of those seminal events is the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.
The site of the riots was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, which was a popular gathering place for sexual minorities. Even though Greenwich Village was considered to be an area that was especially tolerant and open to sexual minorities, New York City police often raided bars that were thought to be friendly to a gay clientele. Police raids were a frequent occurrence at the Stonewall Inn causing the patrons to become increasingly frustrated and angry about their treatment. The raid on June 28, 1969 was seen as the last straw and it touched off numerous spontaneous and sometimes violent demonstrations on the street outside the bar against repressive police tactics. With the 45th anniversary of Stonewall occurring this June what is notable about its place in the history of the LGBT rights movement?
Stonewall is widely seen as an important turning point to more outspoken and confrontational forms of gay rights advocacy. As one participant in the Stonewall riots commented “When did you ever see a fag fight back? Tuesday night was the last night for bullshit… this shit has got to stop.” Another veteran of the Stonewall incident, transgender activist Sylvia Rivera, considers it the foundation of the modern day liberation movement. Rivera also made the observation that the demonstrations were not limited to the gay community, but were helped by many straight men and women that lived in Greenwich Village and that knew the problems faced by sexual minorities. Thus, it can be said that the Stonewall Riots were an important step on the path from stigma to public awareness and consciousness.
Several significant developments quickly followed the Stonewall incident. Shortly thereafter, a number of gay rights organizations were created in major U.S. cities and newspapers that supported a newly militant response to persecution of gays by law enforcement began publication. Perhaps the most visible and widely publicized legacy of the Stonewall riots is the establishment of “pride parades” which commemorate the 1969 demonstrations every June. The first of these were called “gay pride marches” and they began the year following the Stonewall incident. The concept was renamed to simply “pride parades” or “pride festivals” and it spread rapidly both nationally and in many other countries.
The Eugene/Springfield Pride festival will be held on Saturday, August 9. Be sure to stop by the ACLU booth!