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It’s June and pride is busting out all over!
This year’s celebrations are just a little brighter as we also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
It may have seemed like a spontaneous spark but there had been discontent and anger in the LGBTQ community before June 1969. It was a series of injustices, the systematic oppression of LGBTQ people that had gone on for years.
The Stonewall Uprising was just the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States and is widely considered to constitute the most pivotal event leading to the modern fight for LGBTQ rights.
Most of us have heard the account of the events that June in 1969. The six days of demonstrations by the LGBTQ community that began in the early morning hours of June 28 at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City.
Many of us have made that pilgrimage, getting off at the Christopher Street/Sheridan Square subway stop and taken the short walk to Christopher Park with its sculpture of four figures honoring the gay rights movement and the events at the Stonewall Inn opposite the park.
It is history, our history, but like most of history, it is full of contradictions.
The monument of four figures paying tribute to the Stonewall Uprising is of two men and two women, all painted white doesn’t even hint at the contributions of trans women or people of color who were at the vanguard of the gay rights movement. It was many black and Latino youths who fought to be seen, heard and respected at New York’s Stonewall Inn but their stories and their voices were often erased from accounts.
However, this is being corrected and soon the world’s first monument paying tribute to transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both women of color, for their roles in leading the gay rights movement will be erected in New York.
Recently Pastor Matthew Bode of Zion Lutheran Church in Ferndale asked local activists, “What does Stonewall mean to you and the community you serve/come from?” His question made me think how all my intersections as a black, gay, woman had come full circle in these past 50 years.
The turbulent ’60s held many flashpoints for LGBTQ, women’s and black liberation that in some ways set each group off on its own separate path. Around the time of Stonewall, my concerns were more about black pride than gay pride.
I had been aware of and known family members and friends of the family who were gay. Although it was acknowledged that they/we were “different,” when we all got together the common thread of oppression, racism and discrimination because we were black took precedence.
At the same time, equal rights and greater personal freedom touched on every area of my experience as a woman — including politics, work, family and sexuality.
While the young street kids fought to be seen, heard and respected at New York’s Stonewall Inn, many black youth walked the streets of the nation’s cities singing, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and emerging women/feminists marched across the country to “I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar)” – all wanting to be seen, heard and respected, too.
We were young but that passion to “fight the power” that oppressed us, in all of our identities, burned brightly.
So “What does Stonewall mean to me and the community I serve/come from” as we celebrate the 50th anniversary?
It’s a reminder that we must stand up to oppression and fight the powers that be that would turn back the hands of time.
It reminds me that we – LGBTQ, black, brown, women, all of us — are stronger together, celebrating our differences but stepping out of our silos to fight together for equality and justice for all.
And, as for the community I serve/come from, well, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it and condemned to repeat our mistakes.
It’s June and pride is busting out all over! This year as we celebrate across the state and country let’s bring our full selves, in all of our glorious, intersectional, rainbow colors to the party.
Thank you, Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, Tammy Novak, Sylvia Rivera and all the others who took to the streets 50 years ago and sparked the flame at Stonewall that led to our rights, victories and fight today. We stand on your shoulders!
In Pride, together we rise!
TAGLINE Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her blog radio podcast TAGLINE “Collections By Michelle Brown” airs every Thursday at 7 p.m. Current and archived episodes can be heard on Blog Talk Radio, iTunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/CollectionsbyMichelleBrown/.