Guest Blog by Erin Matas
June is recognized as Pride Month—and with the increased visibility of the rainbow flag as a sign of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) pride, it’s hard to miss. But why do we celebrate Pride in June and what’s it all about? What is Stonewall?
In 1969, The Stonewall Inn was a popular New York City gay bar. Regulars included trans women of color, gay men, queer homeless youth, lesbians, professionals, students, and folks in drag. It was an eclectic and exciting environment for drinking, dancing, and socializing.
Historically, gay bars and clubs have been treasured as safe spaces where folks feel acceptance and belonging, where being your true self is applauded and empowering. This nightlife culture was particularly important because, come daylight, many in the LGBTQ+ community lived in the closet. They couldn’t tell anyone about their true sexual orientation or gender identity. For many, then and now, coming out could mean losing employment, being rejected or disowned by family, losing custody of children, losing friends, and other innumerable varieties of loss.
It’s 1969. Serving alcohol is illegal in disorderly businesses—and the presence of gay folks automatically categorizes your bar or club as disorderly. Although The Stonewall Inn is a private, mafia-owned club, which does offer a little bit of protection from police, raids of gay bars and clubs are common. A raid usually involves harassing, degrading, and arresting staff and patrons, removing cash and alcohol, and shutting the place down. Many arrested are those violating gender norms, including women who aren’t wearing at least three articles of “feminine” clothing and those dressed in drag. Female police officers take those dressed as women into the bathroom to verify their sex and arrest anyone whose clothing don’t match the sex listed on their ID.
However, the police raid on The Stonewall Inn the night of June 28 is different.
Instead of cooperating with police as they raid the club, patrons refuse to show their IDs, refuse to be frisked, and fight back against police officers. The uprising spills into the streets and the public joins the clash. The Stonewall Rebellion lasts for five nights, growing in numbers and strength each night. Marches and demonstrations fill the streets of the Greenwich Village neighborhood.
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50 Years Later
While the movement for LGBTQ+ civil rights didn’t begin with Stonewall, the uprising energized the movement both in the United States and internationally. As more LGBTQ+ folks and their allies came out of the closet and into the streets, pride took on a meaning of its own. LGBTQ+ Pride has become something to celebrate—something visible and tangible. Pride Month is celebrated with parades, events, and flags, and honors the courage of those at The Stonewall Inn who asserted their humanity and fought for respect.
Although gay marriage is now legal in the US and other supportive legislation is in place, many in our community still suffer from discrimination, exclusion, and violence because of who they are and who they love. New legislation attempting to bar transgender youth from playing sports and laws denying hormone support for trans youth are just a couple of examples of current challenges. Right here in Michigan, it remains legal for businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals, and many schools and colleges lack LGBTQ+ anti-bullying policies.
This is my 27th Pride. I know we’re not there yet, but I believe we will reach true LGBTQ+ equity when every individual has the ability to be their true self and feels belonging in a culture of genuine acceptance.
To learn more about Stonewall, check out these 12 Books to Commemorate the Stonewall Riots. The Featured Reads book display on the first floor of the Van Pelt and Opie Library highlights selected books in celebration of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month. Check out the Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s lending library for another offering of great titles, too!