Saturday, June 27, 2009

Celebrate Gay Rights Day. It's the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots!

Today is the 40th anniversary of the single most significant event in the Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Rights Movement, Stonewall Day, which honors those who first stood up for Gay Rights today in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1969. For the first time, large numbers of LGBT individuals stood up to police brutality during the Stonewall Riots, and fought back as hard as they could. Many were injured and arrested. We celebrate their bravery and gumption as Gay Rights day today.

The Stonewall Riots actually started at 1:20 AM early in the morning on June 28. The Stonewall was a Mafia run dive in Greenwich Village that was selling beer illegally, and would have been raided by the police anyway. However, the police were brutal to the gay, lesbian, and transgender patrons and arrested them simply for socializing in public.

What most people do not know is that gay Icon Judy Garland's funeral occured earlier that evening on June 27, -- leaving the crowd in a bad mood. They simply were not going to take police harassment anymore. Although this might be apocryphal, I think it makes sense.

According to legend, some drunk drag queen who was mourning Judy got sick of feeling called a fagot among other insults as he was being arrested, and feeling a police baton (or the cop's other stick in his back) as he was being herded into a police wagon. He then threw a fist (or a beer bottle) in the cops face. The cops then threw him to the ground and almost killed him by kicking him in the head.

Other accounts say that a butch lesbian threw the first punch.

The crowd then quickly grew in number to over 1000 and started fighting back.

The cops who raided the Stonewall had to lock themselves inside the bar to protect themselves. Some people then tried burning the bar down with the cops inside with lighter fluid. Other people were so angry at the abusive treatment that the cops were inflicting on the trannies that they took parking meters out of the ground and tried to hammer the Stonewall doors open in an effort to get at the cops. We are talking a violent riot here. People were simply not going to take this anymore. Although I am not one who condones violence, sometimes it is necessary.

Not soon after, a big crowd drove the police out of the West Village by doing things like turning over police cars and throwing punches back at the police. The rioting did not stop and lasted a few days. The cops were so frightened they learned to back off. Things have never been the same since.

This movie clip gives us a feel of what happened that night.

Now, there were riots in other parts of United States in other cities when Police harassed gays. And, gay rights were more accepted in parts of Western Europe before that time. But, the Stonewall Riots was a big event, achieved media recognition, and served as an incubator for other protests. It has been marked every anniversary since with parades and other events.

One year later, the first gay rights parade commemorating the Stonewall riots was held in New York. Over 15,000 people turned out. Never before have that many LGBT individuals turned out for a public event. As someone famously said, the closet door was ripped open that day and never came back on. This is an actual filmage from that first parade.

We for granted the fact that we can go to gay establishments, purchase gay publications, publish things like this blog, and in much of the world, have increasing degrees of legal rights. In fact, we can now get legally married with full rights in countries such as Canada, Spain, Sweden, and several U.S. States.

But lets go back 40 years. I am taking this from Wikipedia:

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and police departments kept lists of known homosexuals, their favored establishments, and friends; the U.S. Postal Service kept track of addresses where material pertaining to homosexuality was mailed. State and local governments followed suit: bars catering to homosexuals were shut down, and their customers were arrested and exposed in newspapers. Cities performed "sweeps" to rid neighborhoods, parks, bars, and beaches of gays. They outlawed the wearing of opposite gender clothes, and universities expelled instructors suspected of being homosexual. Thousands of gay men and lesbians were jailed, fired, or institutionalized in mental hospitals. Many lived double lives, keeping their private lives secret from their professional ones.

The situation was better in some parts of the world, most notably Western Europe. The UK decriminalized homosexuality in 1967. But we would be shocked today to go back in time and see how dangerous it was to be out of the closet.

Many people today hate "labels". They realize that many people, perhaps a majority, are "bi" to some degree and may thing that those interested in gay rights are a rather old fashioned political minority who need to "get a life" and stop thinking about the past.

But this is not the point.

The point is we need to celebrate the actions that our predecessors - and probably some SL Residents - took at the time, which gave many (but not all of us, we can still be murdered for being gay in countries like Iran) the freedom that we today. So go out and party, and think about what things could have been like if some drag queen did not tell some obnoxious cop to fuc_ off because Judy had just died!

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