Tag Archives: stonewall riots

Lawmakers: Make Stonewall Inn a national park

Two New York lawmakers are leading a campaign to designate Stonewall Inn as the first national park honoring LGBT history.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler made their announcement in late September in front of the Greenwich Village tavern that was the scene of a 1969 uprising at a key moment for the nascent gay rights movement.

“When we look at our country, we have recognized women’s rights, civil rights, all kinds of rights,” Gillibrand said. “The time has come to give this part of our history an imprimatur of national importance.”

The two Democrats were joined by other elected officials and members of the National Parks Conservation Association and the Human Rights Campaign.

National parks can only be created by an act of Congress. They include sites of cultural or historic importance.

Gillibrand says she and Nadler are first asking President Barack Obama to declare Stonewall a monument. A congressional vote on park status would come later.

Gillibrand credited gay-rights activists for spurring action on giving greater recognition to the historic tavern raided by police more than four decades ago, triggering violent protests.

During his second inauguration in 2013, Obama mentioned Stonewall and the struggle for LGBT equality as being on a par with women’s and civil rights.

Stonewall would be the first park representing the gay community, but the fight isn’t over, Gillibrand said.

“Same-sex couples don’t have the same adoption rights, or the same federal benefits,” she said. “There’s more work to do.”

Frank Kameny was a saint of the LGBT rights movement

In a symbolic coincidence, pioneering LGBT civil rights leader Frank Kameny died on National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11.

Kameny began as a straight-laced academic who gave himself over to his work. But arrests and run-ins with the police in the 1950s radicalized him, especially after he was fired from his work at the U.S. Army Map Service.  

Well before the Stonewall Riots in New York City, Kameny helped to found Washington D.C.’s Mattachine Society and organized a 1965 picket of the White House. Kameny started working for LGBT rights so long ago that the Smithsonian displays his memorabilia. Items include his White House picket signs with their formal, antique sayings, such as, “First Class Citizenship for Homosexuals.” Hey, hey, ho, ho, Frank Kameny started long ago.    

Kameny worked long and hard on LGBT rights, living through some of the most remarkable transformations in our culture, from the police oppression of the 1950s to the amazing apology the federal government made to Kameny in 2009. The apology came from John Berry, the openly gay director of the Office of Personnel Management. In it, Berry wrote of Kameny, “With the fervent passion of a true patriot, you did not resign yourself to your fate or quietly endure this wrong. With courage and strength, you fought back.”    

Like Martin Luther King, Kameny tied his advocacy to the essence of America. The Declaration of Independence asserts every human’s inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. More than once, Kameny pointed to the Declaration to frame LGBT civil rights as part of the nation’s commitment to those unalienable human rights. Kameny, like King, dedicated his life to ensuring our nation fulfilled that promise.  

King once wrote, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Movements for justice do not succeed because of one march, one rally or one impassioned speech. Kameny didn’t stop with one picket of the White House. Through his decades of effort, he not only saw historical change but worked to ensure history was a little more bent.

Every fall my congregation celebrates All Saints Day (Nov. 1) by commemorating people in our congregation who passed away. We honor their lives and light a candle in remembrance of their unique beauty. This year when my congregation gathers for All Saints, I’ll light a candle for Kameny.  

Kameny, raised Jewish, might find it ironic to be honored among Christian saints. Yet his life gave witness to how I want to live as a Christian – daringly, courageously, and willing to struggle for what’s right even if it takes a very long time.

In these days when a disastrous election can feel overwhelming, Kameny speaks as a patron saint of the long view. He was the first to coin the phrase “gay is good,” and he was foremost in never giving up the fight to make others realize the truth of his words. That’s the kind of saint we need more of.  

Kameny came out in an America far different than ours today.  In fact, our America is different because of all the difference he made. And for that, I’ll rejoice on All Saints.

The roots of gay Pride

It’s been 41 years since the Stonewall Rebellion in New York sparked the gay liberation movement. One wag called it “the hissy fit heard ’round the world.”

The Stonewall riots in 1969 were an immediate reaction to police harassment in a New York bar. But they emerged out of a swirling vortex of social change fueled by the Old Left, the Civil Rights Movement, the Sexual Revolution and Women’s Liberation.

There’s some credence to the old right-wing saw that gay rights is a Commie plot. The founders of Germany’s pioneering gay movement more than a century ago were socialists committed to extending to homosexuals the “rights of man”

championed by Enlightenment philosophers. Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society in 1951 and universally recognized as the father of the gay rights movement in the United States, was a member of the Communist Party who fought for the rights of workers and minorities.

Today’s LGBT rights movement owes its greatest debt to the African-American civil rights movement. Many early gay activists were inspired by the example of civil rights organizing. Some were veterans of freedom rides and voter registration drives. Once organized as homosexuals, they adopted the black movement’s rhetoric, goals and tactics.

Chants of “Gay Power!” and “Gay Pride!” were derived from black nationalist slogans. The goal of achieving equality through legal provisions against discrimination voiced by black leaders was adopted by gays and lesbians seeking an end to prejudice. Gay people held protest marches, walked picket lines, lobbied legislators and began running for office as openly gay and lesbian candidates.

Some African-American leaders criticized the gay movement for co-opting their rhetoric and goals and riding on their coat tails. But most people today recognize that the appropriation of civil rights goals by gays, women, Latinos, people with disabilities and other groups does not diminish the black experience. It expands the vision and enhances the prospects for greater dignity and freedom for everyone.

LGBT people of all colors can honor the debt we owe to the civil rights movement by confronting racism and ethnocentrism when we see or hear it, especially in queer communities.

The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s gave the gay rights movement a big push. The introduction of the pill and other contraceptives, newly published research about sexuality, the counterculture’s call for “free love,” and the relaxation of media censorship opened the door to more honest discussions about sex. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people bolted out of their closets in growing numbers, leaving shame behind and asserting pride in our identities.

Women’s Liberation played a critical role in the struggle, mobilizing tens of thousands of lesbians and providing the movement’s intellectual ballast. Feminist critiques of gender socialization and power relations within society are central to our understanding of homophobia. The lesbian critique of “heterosexism” – male supremacy allied to compulsory heterosexuality – speaks to the oppression of all LGBT people.

The feminist movement provided the gay rights movement with some of its best leaders. Organizational skills honed in women’s groups continue to benefit campaigns for gay civil rights. Feminist principles of inclusiveness, like consensus decision-making, racial and gender quotas for governing bodies, ASL interpreters at events, and ticket prices scaled to income, are still evident in progressive LGBT groups today.

I love that the rainbow flag has become our standard. Besides its dazzling effect (a must for those of us with queer genes), it reflects our diversity as individuals as well as our cultural and historical heritage. That heritage teaches us that there can be no real gay pride without racial equality, sexual autonomy and women’s liberation.