Today is the 33rd anniversary of the Stonewall uprising (well, perhaps: some date Stonewall on June 28, since much of what occurred was after midnight) in New York City, the foundational event of the modern gay liberation movement. But it seems to have slipped many gay rights organizations’ minds.
Stonewall marked the first spectacular uprising of a radical, agitating gay movement which would no longer settle for the daily denigration and terrorism inflicted against LGBT people, and would not accept compromise, appeasement, or a ghettoized underground
gay community as the solution.
Although the Stonewall Inn remains a powerful marker to gay liberation activists outside of the US, many in America have forgotten it, or wish we would. Today, there is a feel-good liberal
gay rights movement which (sometimes) pays lip service to Stonewall, but rarely remembers the power of that moment. And there is a gay Right movement which loathes Stoneall and everything it stands for. They both work, with only slightly different priorities, for appeasement, tolerance, and assimilation into the mainstream of American culture. But at Stonewall they were not pleading for justice in return for assimilation.
Butch dykes, fairies, drag queens, street kids, and every other spectre haunting homophobic American culture stormed through the streets, fighting back against the police who had victimized them for so long. Stonewall’s lasting legacy rests in groups such as the Gay Liberation Front, Radicalesbians, ACT-UP, and others, which confronted our culture with an uncompromising demand for justice, an end to oppression rather than an end to difference. This is what has marked the past three decades with unparalleled success, compared to the relative stagnation of the era of reformist groups such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis and ghettoized underground bars.
The feel-good liberals and the conservatives play into each other’s hands to write the radicals out of history. I looked for a good story on the anniversary, and found nothing at all on:
- The Advocate magazine and news updates
- Gay.com News
- Human Rights Campaign
But in spite of the blackout, the radicals have been here all along. They were instrumental to the triumphs of the past thirty years, as gay liberation has made stellar progress on every front. They were here to suffer the horrors, with the Reagan backlash, the AIDS holocaust, and the rise in anti-gay murders. And all significant progress toward gay liberation depends on the ability of radical views and solutions to remain within the LGBT community and LGBT activism.
I hope that everyone will take some time today to remember and thank those who have gone before us in the struggle for justice. Happy anniversary, everyone.