It’s amazing. Nearly impossible to believe it has been 50 years since Stonewall. Fifty years since a seemingly unconnected group of smaller events connected and culminated in one riotous rise up and kick ass night—a night in which the LGBTQ community took to the streets, fought back, and demanded our basic rights, beginning with the right to exist.
So long ago, Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg wasn’t even born.
So while it may feel like only yesterday, it was so long ago and far away that we’ve raised an entire generation who think of Stonewall as “textbook history.”
And you know, this might be gratifying were it not for that maxim, “everything old is new again.”
The 60s were a time of rising up and demanding rights. In many ways, we were the last to this party. Civil Rights/Black Rights, Women’s Rights, and finally, Gay Rights.
It was 1954 when the civil rights movement began to kick up its heels; the year of Brown v. Board of Education, the year the United States Supreme Court made segregation illegal in public schools. It was 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus.
It was May 1960 when the Food and Drug Administration approved the first oral contraceptive, aka “the Pill,” for sale as birth control in the US. In 1963, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published, and in 1966, the National Organization for Women, NOW, was formed.
In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated, while John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among many, took on the herculean feat of crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
And 51 years ago, both these movements took a giant step forward as Shirley Chisolm became the first black woman elected to Congress, living her truth, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair.”
And it was also 51 years ago when the movements were nearly felled; the voice of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. silenced, as he was gunned down.
But in death, there was action.
For in death, the Rev. Dr. King’s voice rang as loud and true as ever.
And our voices, quiet, almost in the background, were learning to shout as we pulled up a gay rights chair and joined this chorus.
1961. Illinois repealed its sodomy law. Just Illinois. It would take another 10 years before Connecticut became the second state to do so.
1961, 1967. Two Black Cats, of the drinking establishment kind: Black Cat one was in San Francisco, where Josè Sarria, known for his drag renditions of opera, also became the first openly gay American to run for office, declaring, “United we stand, divided they arrest us one by one.” He also formed (1965) the International Imperial Court System, the second largest LGBTQ organization in the world, surpassed only by the Metropolitan Community Church.
Two years before Stonewall, in Silver Lake, California, Black Cat two appeared, the Black Cat Tavern. When the patrons of this black cat experienced yet another police raid, they staged one of the first public demonstrations in support of gay rights.
From the Mattachine Society to the Daughters of Bilitis, two gay social organizations made the personal become political, and then Stonewall, crystalized our movement.
By 1969, everyone was in motion, voices ringing through the streets. Gay Liberation had Stonewall; Women’s Liberation had “Jane,” aka the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation; radical feminists such as Redstockings were in NY and a Mother’s Day March on Washington by the NOW demanded “rights, not roses.”
And I give you this historic overview, rather than a sentimental look back at Stonewall, because somehow this liberating 50-year passage of time is facing its Waterloo. And that is terrifying.
The list is suddenly endless. Ferguson. Michael Brown. Hands up, don’t shoot. Charlottesville. Trans ban. Deadnaming. Muhlaysia Booker. Alabama abortion. Abortion doctors—99-year prison sentences. Brock Turner, six months. Only 4.6 rapists will serve jail or prison time out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). ERA fails. My body, my choice. Donald Trump and the US Justice Department arguing that anti-gay discrimination is legal, filing an amicus curiae (a friend-of-the-court brief), claiming the federal Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect gay and bisexual workers.
Mike Pence. Neil Gorsuch. Brett M. Kavanaugh. Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Religious Liberty Task Force.
And only 50 percent of eligible Americans, knowing the stakes, voted in the last election.
It’s all good and fine to go up on your social media feed and denounce the latest anti-any-of-the-above, but first, we must recognize that memes with our Facebook friends aren’t going to change this downward spiral’s direction.
But WE can. Are you registered to vote? If so, is every single one of your friends? If they have time for Facebook, they have time to register—make assuring they do your responsibility. We can get informed. AND MARCH!
STFU—show the F*$K up!
Let’s get our boots on the ground and our voices ringing through the streets.
Let’s honor Stonewall, not with another plaque, but by making their courage ours.
Silence, we know, equals death. ▼
Stefani Deoul is a television producer and author of the award-winning YA mystery series Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventures, with On a LARP and Zero Sum Game.