Lessons for Today
How can we defend and expand our rights, let alone win
full freedom for LGBTQs and others?
Fifty years ago in New York City a police attack on an LGBTQ bar, The Stonewall Inn, precipitated several nights of riots against the police and helped launch what was then known as the Gay Liberation Movement.
It was the first mass movement of LGBTQs in this country, and the first worldwide one since the 1930s, which had been destroyed by the Great Depression and the rise of Nazism.
Unlike LGBTQ organizing efforts prior to Stonewall in the U.S., the movement that followed reached a huge audience and encouraged millions to come out and demand equal rights in every aspect of U.S. society. The U.S. movement in turn spurred a truly worldwide movement in every country regardless of religion, culture and history.
But today’s LGBTQ community is dominated by bureaucratic “non-profits” whose “A-List” executive directors earn 6-figure salaries. These non-profits are in turn controlled by wealthy donors who dictate that we don’t raise demands that might embarrass the corporations they’re associated with. Nor do they tolerate anything that would irritate the Democratic Party, even though that party under Bill Clinton was responsible for blatant anti-LGBTQ legislation that took years of sacrifice and effort in the streets to repeal.
Today’s corporatized “movement” is a far cry from the community-driven one of the Stonewall years, with its often-messy democracy where everyone had a voice. LGBTQ activists then were active not only around “gay only” issues, but often embraced the radical demands of the Black and Women’s Liberation movements, and proudly participated in the movement to end the U.S. war in Vietnam. Our movement then was “intersectional” in the genuine sense of the word, even before the word itself had been invented – far from the tokenized way the word is often used today.
The movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s not only raised mass consciousness about American racism, sexism and homophobia, they also won stunning victories despite a bigoted Richard Nixon inhabiting the White House. These included the quintupling of food stamp benefits, affirmative action against racism and sexism that is the envy of today, the right to abortion, the forced withdrawal of the U.S. military from Southeast Asia, a War Powers Act with teeth, and a host of environmental legislation to clean up our air, water and land, and protect endangered species.
Today we see the rise of violent far-right governments in many countries, with direct physical attacks against vulnerable minorities and the erosion of formal legal rights. Yet today’s “Gay, Inc.” movement, a corporate, top-down spectacle of black-tie galas, insider lobbyists and Budweiser floats in Pride Parades, is singularly ill-equipped to take on these challenges, let alone imagine the very different society that Stonewall era activists strove to create.
A world of rampantly growing economic inequality, climate catastrophe, and unchecked U.S. militarism breeds vicious bigotry against minorities, including LGBTQs. We need a radically different movement today, and the Stonewall Rebellion and the movement it birthed offer important insights on how this can be achieved.
Please join the Gay Liberation Network for a forum commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion to learn from its example and apply those lessons today.
** LaSaia Wade, founder & Executive Director, Brave Space Alliance
** Samer Owaida, queer Palestinian activist
** Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network
Music provided by legendary LGBTQ performers Scott Free and Jenny Urban!