-By Angela Borders
and Joe Borders, Marriage and Family Therapist
-June 19th, 2019
An Update For he 50th Anniversary
of the Stonewall Riots
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that marked the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. We wrote about the origins of pride and the Stonewall Riots last year and were thinking now would be a good time to update this post and share it again ^_^. It’s important to know the history of the LGBTQ community and the events that lead up to the first pride. These issues have been making headlines recently with events like people being upset that police officers were allowed to march in uniform in this year’s Sacramento Pride.
Why We Celebrate Pride
As Pride draws to a close we thought it would be good to take a look back on Pride’s origins and reflect on why it matters so much. Also, we want to make sure that if anyone wants to celebrate/get involved with Pride that they have the info needed—it’s not too late to get out there and join in the celebration! So buckle up and let’s dive in to where pride came from, why it’s so important, and how you can get involved.
Origins of Pride
In preparing to write this blog post, we did a bunch of research on Pride and its origins, and one especially helpful source we came across was a documentary called “Stonewall Uprising“. We want to start out by mentioning it because we highly recommend checking it out if you want to get a clear understanding of what happened on the night that led to the very first Pride parade. We are going to offer a brief summary here, but if you want to learn more, really, give that documentary a view because it was so powerful to see interviews and visuals of the actual people and places involved.
In a Nutshell
The short story is that Pride is held every year to commemorate the riots that occurred June 28th, 1969, at the Stone Wall Inn in New York. The riots lasted six days, and spanned a wider space than just the Stone Wall Inn, but June 28th at the Stone Wall was where things began. The very first Pride was in 1970, one year after the riots. That first Pride had a very different feel from the Pride celebrations of today. The joyful, parade like feel of Pride evolved out of what was at first a show of activism, more of a protest march. After the riots, LGBTQ people began to band together, form organizations and groups, and feel like they had others to turn to, support networks. The Stone Wall Riots were the catalyst that began a movement.
But there is so much more… To start, some context
It’s important to note that before the Stone Wall Riots, police raids and misconduct towards LGBTQ people were regularly accepted occurrences. At this point in time, there were not laws protecting the rights or safety of LGBTQ people, quite the opposite…
In 1917, foreign LGBT people were barred from legally immigrating to the United States due to their supposed ‘psychopathic personality disorder.’ Illinois was the only state in the country, since 1961, where homosexuality was not explicitly outlawed. New York’s penal code called for the arrest of anyone in public wearing fewer than three items of clothing ‘appropriate’ to their gender. And California’s Atascadero State Hospital was compared with a Nazi concentration camp and known as a ‘Dachau for queers’ for performing electroshock and other draconian “therapies” on gays and lesbians. One legal expert argues that in the 1960s, ‘The homosexual…was smothered by law.’ (Wolf).
At the time of Stone Wall (which was only 49 years ago!) The concept of being “out” as a gay person in the way many LGBTQ people are today was unheard of. The scorn and very real threat of injury or even death meant LGBTQ people had to live in constant fear.
And this fear was very well founded. All aspects of life could be affected by being found out to be LGBTQ.
President Eisenhower signed a 1953 executive order that established ‘sexual perversion’ as grounds for being fired from government jobs. And since employment records were shared with private industry, exposure or suspicion of homosexuality could render a person unemployable and destitute. ‘Loitering in a public toilet’ was an offense that could blacklist a man from work and social networks, as lists of arrestees were often printed in newspapers and other public records. Most states had laws barring homosexuals from receiving professional licenses, which could also be revoked upon discovery. Sex between consenting adults of the same sex, even in a private home, could be punishable for up to life in prison, confinement in a mental institution, or even castration. (Wolf)
While we know we still have a long way to go towards equality for all genders and people, it is especially shocking to hear just how terrifying the lives of those living under these policies must have been. It’s important to take time to remember where we came from and what progress we have made. Even if we still have a lot of work to do, it is heartening to consider how things have improved, and important to remember how far we can fall.
So, getting back to Stone Wall…
Again, remember that police raids and arrests based on simply being gender non-conforming were a regular thing… “In effect, the anti-cross-dressing laws became a flexible tool for police to enforce normative gender on multiple gender identities, including masculine women and people identifying as transgender or gender non-conforming.” (PBS) Consistent raids and arrests were made all the time in the area where Stone Wall stands, in New York’s Greenwich Village. It was a regular occurrence for people to be forced to have their genitalia checked by police officers, to be carted off in paddy wagons for not wearing at least 3 articles of clothing conforming to one’s biological sex. After many many raids and whole lifetimes spent in turmoil, the LGBTQ community was coming to a breaking point.
In the very early morning hours of June 28th, 1969, the community near Stone Wall fought back. Riots occurred for days, and a huge shift began to take place. There was conflict and turmoil, both within the LGBTQ community, which was just beginning to form, and with those oppressing them. The most notable thing though was a sense of change and community. Many of those interviewed in the documentary we mentioned before noted that suddenly they didn’t feel so alone; one man said something particularly moving, that he now felt he had “brothers and sisters” to turn to, when before he had never felt that.
That sense of community is what Pride is all about. Being able to connect, support, and feel togetherness with each other is a powerful thing, and it’s what led to monumental changes in the ways we treat LGBTQ people. Banding together, LGBTQ groups and those who support them have made huge gains in social, political, and legal treatment of LGBTQ people.
Why This is All So Important
So why is it important to know this history, or to celebrate Pride at all? Because we all matter. And we all deserve to be proud of who we are, how we live, and who we love. It’s also important because those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. In a cultural climate of division and conflict, it’s important to remember how much better we can be when we come together and respect one another rather than putting up walls and hate towards one another. Remembering the past, learning from it, and coming together to support each other builds pathways to new and better progress.
In 2016 Stone Wall Inn was designated a historical landmark, and today many LGBTQ people are growing up in environments that support and accept them. Real progress is happening! However there is definitely still a long way to go. Many, many LGBTQ people still feel shamed or unsafe, and many communities and groups have shown all too well that the same hatred that existed back during Stone Wall is alive and strong.
To us, that’s the biggest reason Pride is so important and powerful. It was amazing watching the interviewees in “Stone Wall Uprising” talk about how moving it was to see people coming out and taking to the streets, braving the hate and scorn of others, knowing it was a huge risk to do so. One man said he was afraid there would only be a few people at that first Pride, and he seemed overjoyed as he described what it was like to see the group grow and grow as it marched on.
Seeing the group grow and grow, the support for each other grow and grow, is what Pride is all about. There is strength in numbers. There is power in having support for each other and Pride in each other.
So is Pride Just for LGBTQ People?
No way! Pride is for anyone who wants to support LGBTQ people and equal rights for all! So get out there and give out all the high fives, wear all the rainbows, and hug all the people who want to get hugged! We took our son to the Sacramento pride day for the 2nd time this year and he had a ball getting stickers and candy and spinning the prize wheels. We especially loved that they had a bounce house (gave us a break!). Anyone who wants to celebrate and give support to the LGBTQ community is heartily encouraged to do so, now at Pride, and every day.
How you can get involved
There are lots of different ways to enjoy and celebrate Pride! Take some time to reflect on the history of LGBTQ people and the struggles they’ve faced. If you aren’t LGBTQ, think about ways you can be supportive of those who are, especially in your own life and community, and put those ideas into action. If you’re looking to get involved in a group or organization, or attend an event, check out the links in the next two sections. But however you want to participate, just know there is no wrong way to celebrate Pride, as long as you are acting with support and kindness towards yourself and others.
Check out these events!
Sacramento Pride’s Facebook page has a list of several events still going on, and likely will continue to post relevant events/discussion/information. Check them out here: https://www.facebook.com/SacramentoPride/
Think you would like to attend a conference focused on LGBTQ issues? How about a LGBTQ Prom? Or maybe a LGBTQ Square Dance? Sac365 had those as just some of the first few events going on. And while we are talking about Sac365 let us just say that we love and use them all the time. They have TONS of great info for things going on in our area literally every single day. Whenever we need something fun to do it is one of the first places we look. https://www.sacramento365.com/categories/lgbt/
These last few are actually a bit of a ways off, but maybe that’s all the better? This way you get to look forward to the event and can plan!
Rainbow Festival, happening in September (Labor Day Weekend)
LGBTQ Film Festival, happening in October
These links were just a few events coming up in the area, but there are many more, especially if you widen your search. Reno, for example, is having their big Pride event on July 28th
Check out these groups!
There are TONS of places people can get involved. If you are in the Sacramento area, consider checking these out or offering them financial support. Also consider looking for similar groups in your own city or neighborhood if you live somewhere else like Folsom or Davis. Surrounding cities have similar groups and networks, but for the sake of length we are highlighting just a few here.
However you choose to give support and/or celebrate Pride, we wish you a happy Pride month and a great summer!
Are you or someone you know struggling with emotional or psychological problems related to LGBTQ issues? Check out our gender therapists and therapists who specialize in working with LGBTQ issues; working with a therapist can help.