Today’s blog post is written by Dustin Wolfe, a member of Austin Recovery’s heARt committee, an agency group committed to internally promote and educate staff about diversity. June is LGBTQIA Pride Month, and in order to celebrate that month, Dustin educates us on a historical moment and achievement for the gay community in the United States. Thank you Dustin!
This June marks the 43rd anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a turning point in the gay rights movement. To understand the impact of the events that occured in the early morning of Saturday, June 28, 1969, I think it’s helpful to remember what the attitudes toward homosexuality were at the time. Until 1973, homosexuality was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and considered a mental illness. To be “out” in the early to middle part of the 20th century was risky to say the least. Homosexuals were shunned by society, fired from their jobs, subjected to electroshock therapy, and committed to mental institutions. Gay establishments were routinely targeted by the police and shut down.
The Stonewall Inn was a mafia-run gay bar that paid the police monthly to avoid harassment by law enforcement. Speculation surrounds the reason the police decided to go forward with a raid of the Stonewall Inn; one theory is the owners missed one of the monthly payments. Regardless, the raid had a dramatic impact on the spirit of the gay rights movement. Patrons began to resist arrest and throw things at the cops. Cars were turned over, things were set on fire and, as the tactical police force attempted to push rioters back, KICK LINES WERE FORMED (we had to make it our own, right?)! The reaction by the gay community that night shifted the tone of the gay rights struggle from silent suffering to justified outrage. The next night rioters returned to Christopher Street, where the Stonewall Inn was located. More fires were set, more cars were turned over and, yes, more kick lines were formed. A lifetime of pent-up frustration was manifesting itself in the form of arson and spontaneous, synchronized dance moves. News of the riots spread quickly and many new gay rights groups organized as a result.
On June 28, 1970, on the one year anniversary of the riots, the very first Gay Pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The following year, marches took place all over the world. Now, the entire month of June is considered Gay Pride month. A variety of events and celebrations, including the traditional marches, call attention to an ongoing struggle for equal rights around the world. Though a substantial amount of progress has been made, there remains a lot of work to be done. In our own nation, same sex couples are seeking the same protection and recognition under the law that heterosexual couples receive. In some countries, the death penalty is still the consequence for homosexuality. Persecution and denial of rights based on superficial differences has been a recurring theme throughout history. It is the seemingly inevitable tendency of the oppressed to win their struggle that I find heartening. Well, that and kick lines.
Adam, Barry (1987). The Rise of a Gay and Lesbian Movement, G. K. Hall & Co.
Duberman, Martin (1993). Stonewall, Penguin Books.
Teal, Donn (1971). The Gay Militants, St. Martin’s Press.
LaFrank, Kathleen (ed.) (January 1999). “National Historic Landmark Nomination: Stonewall”, U.S. Department of the Interior: National Park Service.