A refreshing headline appeared recently in the Washington Post:
“‘Wrong, plain and simple’: 50 years after the Stonewall raid, New York City’s police commissioner apologizes.”
It was on June 28, 1969 when the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn. The raid was SOP, reminiscent of those by G-men on Roaring Twenties speakeasies. Years of repetition made it usual. Only this time, the response was not usual. The expected compliant, frightened patrons—“pansies”—had enough and fought back with whatever was available, rocks and garbage among the weaponry. Quickly, the tables were turned, symbolically and literally. The raiders, trapped and besieged, feared for their safety and called for reinforcements. History was made, a legend born, and the path to dignity for LGBTQs was blazed.
The Stonewall uprising was, like many revolutions, a spontaneous act of defiance by an outraged, repressed people fed up with being treated like sub-humans.
History is replete with the oppressed extending their right middle finger to the oppressors while giving a left uppercut to their glass jaws: e.g., the French at the Bastille, Nat Turner in slave Virginia, Russians at the Winter Palace, Bloody Sunday on Alabama’s Edmund G. Pettis Bridge, Oglala Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee.
Stonewall, which gave rise to the Gay Rights Movement, fittingly happened at the end of the 1960s, a time of social fermentation. It followed the Civil Rights Movement and concurred with the Women’s Right’s Movement. Collectively, the three revolutionized the image of what an American is supposed to look and behave like.
Sociologists once called America a “melting pot.” The term, however, is loaded language. It’s code for WASPizing, the process of inculcating immigrants into more than learning English and developing an understanding of and appreciation for liberal democracy. Melting pot also implies inculcating adopting and adapting to the American version of White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestantism. It’s de facto gentilesse nativism, a subliminal process of establishing WASP cultural supremacy sans violent Know Nothing unpleasantries.
In its stead, consider alternative imageries. America as an array of races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities encumbered with cultural myths, beliefs, superstitions, practices, tastes, preferences, and customs averse to tallying, numberless threads woven to create a seamless but ever-changing fabric. Or a microbrew for which Colorado is ground zero. From its vats, come stouts, ambers, pilsners, and others, each a frothy, full bodied brew, rich and luxurious with its own distinct flavor, texture, aroma, and color.
Like their cousins in the other movements, the Gay Rights Movement proclaimed loudly and clearly, “We’ve had enough and aren’t taking it any longer.” And like our brothers and sisters, our path would not be easy. Like people of color struggling with institutional and cultural racism and like women fighting for equal pay and personal control over their bodies, the LGBTQ community remains under siege primarily from the usual suspects on the fundamentalist, ultra-religious, straight right.
That right—new-age and born-again conservatives—labels diversity identity politics. But it fails to grasp that it practices its own vanilla version. Experts in denialism, it refuses to accept the tables have turned.
Nevertheless, headway is being made in a range of fields from arts and athletics to the political arena: Governor Jared Polis, Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg polling among top-tier candidates, and scores of LGBTQ legislators and other public leaders modeling positive leadership among them.
Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. New norms arise when a certain people not content to “know their place” act up and out. The Stonewall raid was that spark for the LGBTQ community.
Thus, it’s a time to celebrate. At Friday happy hour, hoist a cold one to the Stonewall freedom fighters.