Reflections on Stonewall @ 50 Years

By Scott Free
Gay Liberation Network

As we reflect on the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riot, we must remember the times in which it occurred. Queer and trans people were completely marginalized – hated by the world around them. That is why the police could so freely harass, arrest and beat them without any response, let alone outcry, from the public.

We should also recognize how the names have been changed – what we call a Pride Parade, was actually a Liberation March. The reason why we now have our massive celebrations is not because of the event itself, but because of what happened right after the riot. It was the creation of the Gay Liberation Front, just three weeks after the riot, that laid the groundwork for our celebrations today.

It was the Gay Liberation Front, which brought the radical ideas of confrontational direct action, similar to those of the anti-war movement, radical feminist, and the Black Panther Party to the gay rights movement. By that time the leaders of the gay rights movement, the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis, were no longer radical organizations, and had become assimilationist groups, who avoided direct confrontations in the streets.

The first street protest was organized by Gay Liberation Front, under the banner name Christopher Street Liberation Day March, to encourage the involvement of other organizations. It was a street protest in which the marchers, as they first stepped out onto the street, were afraid of being attacked and beaten. Only by the end of the march, when enough people had joined in along the route, were they able to claim it a success, and plan to make it an annual event.

Over the past 50 years, we have seen the complete corporatization of Pride. The priority of Pride events have been to make profits, not celebrate our community. One example of this was how Pride events were notorious for not booking LGBT artists, who were not as well known as straight artists. In 2002, I (and a few friends) protested Chicago PrideFest for booking only straight artists that year. This year, even Billboard had an article on Pride events not booking LGBT artists. Unfortunately, our Pride events in Chicago have taken it one step further with Pride In The Park, whose headliner, Iggy Azalea (straight of course), is as much famous for her homophobic and racists tweets, as her music. And the $50 entrance fee (VIP ticket $100) solidifies for good our current profit motives of Pride.

That is why it is especially important, at the 50-year anniversary, to remember was most important part of the movement – the organizing and demonstrating for the rights of marginalized people.

The best way to remember Stonewall is to bring those actions into our world today. To recognize those who are completely marginalized – hated by the world around them – and to organize and protest for their rights. We LGBT people who have been uplifted by those before us, must now help others – refugees, black and brown people (like Stonewall, attacked by the police), trans women of color, Palestinians, Yemeni people – any group suffering at the hands of those in power. We must be like that Gay Liberation Front – radically organizing and fighting in the streets for the rights of all people.

Happy Anniversary Stonewall, and it’s first Liberation March!

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