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Have you ever been motivated to put yourself at risk in order to stand up for someone else or for a cause? For some, to place themselves on the line is too much to ask. For others, when they see injustice taking place, a motivation that says, “enough is enough” rises within them and they act without thought to the price they will pay. This is what occurred during the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at The Stonewall Inn – an uprising that lasted for two nights.
The opposition labeled it as mayhem started by a group of drag queens and youth who didn’t respect law enforcement. Yet, at the risk of being imprisoned, beaten, losing their jobs and livelihood, the uprising at The Stonewall was inspired by those who wanted to defend their humanity and the dignity of others. Stonewall was a spiritual act, motivated by those who acted in agreement with the God-given truth that we are divinely created and worthy of respect.
When people are motivated to fight back, invariably others will mislabel their actions as unlawful and even ungodly. Only time will tell whether the actions of an individual is righteous or mayhem. But when a righteous motive is involved, there is always one sign of authenticity – and that is peace. People can face incredible odds when they are motivated to see peace in the world. The response at The Stonewall 50 years ago was the pathway for many to leave their shame and fear behind as they saw how they could live as their authentic selves with pride. Those who responded at The Stonewall had no time to think about what they were doing. They relied upon inspiration to make things better and thus laid the path for a movement for human equality! Stonewall was a spiritual act.
Very few people question whether the civil rights movement was a spiritual act. We can clearly see the benefit of Dr. King and others’ actions and the huge price they paid. At the time that MLK engaged in the civil rights movement, he was labeled a troublemaker, even ungodly by other clergy, for being an agitator. “Why couldn’t he just accept things as the way they were?” Yet, he had a burden, an inspiration, to resist the forces that would dehumanize others, especially the plight blacks faced in America. Lesser known than Dr. King, but as equally important were Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, self-described drag queens and queer historical icons.
Both had been present at Stonewall and were inspired to create the organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a group that organized homeless trans youth, drag queens, sex workers, immigrants and low-income people in New York. So much change for the good resulted because 50 years ago some couldn’t accept things the way they were and became agitators in the spark of a moment.
When we work for peace for ourselves or others, whether it happens in the spark of a moment or through a strategic plan, we are creating good to enter the world. However, it is almost impossible to create peace for others when we still have shame and fear in our hearts. Peace is the result of discovering the pathway of self-acceptance and the integration of our authentic self into everyday life. This is a spiritual act. We can then be inspired to advocate for others or resist the injustice in our community and world. On this anniversary, we should all honor those lessors known revolutionaries for the uprising that inspired a movement for many of us to lose our fear in exchange for peace.
The Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow is the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit.