49 Years Since Stonewall: Looking to the Past to Keep Moving Forward

By Shane Stahl • June 28, 2018 • 10:38 am

Today, 49 years ago, what many people think of as the start of the LGBTQ movement — the Stonewall uprising — began at 1:20 am at New York’s Stonewall Inn and up and down Christopher Street, taking place over two nights and subsequently jumpstarting the national conversation about LGBTQ equality.

While a previous protest at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco involved the LGBTQ community and law enforcement and marked the beginning of transgender activism in the city, it did not receive the amount of national attention as Stonewall; however, the event was commemorated in 2016 with a series of public events honoring its 50th anniversary.

In the 60s and 70s, it was common for police to raid establishments that catered to LGBTQ people, as homosexuality was considered a disease, being transgender was considered illegal, and laws forbidding so-called “homosexual behavior” were still in effect. However, the incident at Stonewall marked one of the first times that the LGBTQ community fought back. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, both transgender women of color, led much of the resistance over the two nights.

Stonewall led to increased prominence for gay rights groups, and helped usher in Pride celebrations around the country. LGBTQ people began to raise their voices and demand equal treatment in all areas of public life, including marriage, healthcare, and the right to live free from discrimination. 51 and 53 Christopher Street were designated National Historic Landmarks in 1999, with Stonewall Inn designated in 2000. In June 2016, President Barack Obama announced the establishment of the Stonewall National Monument, a nearly 8 acre area including Stonewall Inn to be managed by the National Park Service.

We must take lessons from Stonewall and apply them to the movement that exists here and now — working toward a country where LGBTQ people have federal nondiscrimination protections in housing, employment, and public accommodations, which will allow them to live openly and fully, regardless of who they are or who they love. We must continue to join together to raise our collective voice to demand such a law be passed; we must be persistent in calling for the support of our leaders and lawmakers; we must support campaigns like Freedom For All Massachusetts, working to defend existing nondiscrimination protections from repeal at the ballot; we must commit to making nondiscrimination a lived reality for LGBTQ people nationwide.

Marsha P. Johnson asked 49 years ago in the early morning hours of June 28, “Ain’t I got my civil rights?”

Let’s answer her with action.

Check out Stonewall Forever, a new collaboration from The Center in New York City and Google designed to capture stories about Stonewall for a new interactive monument. Learn more here.

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