The month of June is Pride Month, a time of celebration and joy for all members of the LGBTQ community to come together to celebrate who we are collectively and individually. This year’s celebration of Pride is one of historical significance as this year is the 50th year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. In the early morning dawn on June 28, 1969, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, located in New York’s Greenwich Village, staged a counter offense against the NYPD which routinely raided establishments like this and arrested their patrons. Unlike other gay bars in the Village, the Stonewall Inn catered to the most vulnerable and marginalized of the LGBTQ community, drag queens, transgender people, effeminate gay men, butch lesbians, male hustlers and homeless youth. These riots lasted for four days and launched the gay civil rights movement. Voices of our community proclaimed that no longer would we allow to be silenced and marginalized because of who we were, supporters of the community joined the protesters as they fought back against those oppressive forces. In the months after, buoyed by the outcome of these riots, one of the first gay activist groups, the Gay Liberation Front (GLT) was formed which gave life to the first gay pride march, the Christopher Street Liberation Day which took place one year later in 1970 along with gay pride parades in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the span between the riots and the parade, GLT formed the first LGBTQ community center and the first transgender organization. The success of these riots in bringing awareness to the plight of the LGBTQ community could have never been realized without the passion and commitment of transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera and they will be memorialized and celebrated in a statue set to be erected this year in New York City as part of a local campaign called She Built NYC. Beyond the riots, these two tireless activists dedicated their lives to the purpose of enacting change in the community, to give voice to those who had none, to protect young LGBTQ lives when they were shunned and abandoned by their families and to give assistance to those with HIV/AIDS.
Stonewall was not the first time in which our community has faced adversity and certainly will not be the last. For 12 years later in 1981, our community would face a darkness that would fatally claim many of our brothers and sisters and forced our community to band together and fight back through activism when our government shamefully turned a blind eye as AIDS began to extinguish so many innocent lives. From this plague, organizations such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), Act Up, the AIDS Project and countless others were formed to bring attention to the crisis, demand funding for research and more importantly to give services to the ill and comfort to their loved ones. During those dark times, fear was rampant, so much was unknown until the virus was identified in 1984 followed by the first test which was approved for use in 1985. It wasn’t until the early 90’s in which protease inhibitors were introduced as medications to be used to keep the virus at bay, although HIV remains a chronic illness and there is no cure. The AIDS quilt is a powerful tribute to the horrors of those years, patched together with panels recognizing the lives of those lost to the epidemic lovingly created by the ones they left behind.
While our community has faced many battles and the scars serve as a reminder of our trials and tribulations, we must always stand together and be there for each other. Right now, I call on all of you to continue to love yourselves, be proud of who you are, watch over your loved ones, your friends and your families. As you attend the celebrations and parades, remember those who gave and sacrificed so that we can live our lives free of regret and shame. Never forget what came before, learn the history of your community, embrace the differences of those within the community and volunteer with your local LGBTQ organization. Celebrate the fact that you can now legally marry the one you love. Keep in mind, we have travelled far and though the journey has been hard, the dream of equality can be achieved. Ask yourself, what can you do to show your pride and enact positive change in the community and the world in which you live. Someday, somewhere over the rainbow, we will reach the promised land but only if we continue the fight together.