Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. We reached out to some of our authors to reflect on the impact of this landmark and turning point in the centuries of queer history in America and in the ongoing fight for queer equality. We share their statements with you below.
“Given that I was four years old at the time of Stonewall, the riots and their aftermath have had a profound influence on both my personal life as a gay man and my professional life as a scholar of LGBTQ rights. I have been fortunate to benefit from the changes to American politics, law, and culture that Stonewall helped to foment. I only hope, for my transgender daughter and others of her generation, that the next five decades are as transformative and exhilarating as the last five have been on matters related to gender and sexuality.”
“In the fifty years since the Stonewall riots, we have seen enormous progress in the acceptance of LGBTQ people in mainstream society. We have not witnessed the most radical impulses of the Gay Liberation Front—which arose immediately after Stonewall—to challenge and change a wide range of injustices in our society. Despite the enormous amount of HIV-related deaths of gay men, there has never been a sustained effort in the LGBTQ community to systemically reform and humanize our health care system. Despite the clear, anti-LGBTQ biases of the criminal legal system—including in past decades men going to jail for consensual sexual activity—carceral reform has never been prioritized by national LGBTQ organizations. In the long run of history, fifty years is a small fraction of time. We can begin deep, lasting change now.”
—Michael Bronski, A Queer History of the United States
“Stonewall was a riot. Police violence and police indifference to violent acts committed by homophobic and transphobic citizens won’t be solved with palliatives like ‘it gets better’ or with ‘sensitivity training’ for the police. What will work, what is working, can be seen in the next generation of queers who, in solidarity with their forebears, have disavowed respectability politics and gender conformity. They’re queers who don’t care about the liberal political agenda of national LGBTQQIA organizations, who critique proposed federal laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people on the grounds that only ‘respectable’ citizens will benefit from them. That’s why I won’t be ‘gay’ on June 25. I’ll be holding up a red umbrella for the rights of sex workers and a protest sign demanding the end to police violence.”
—Melinda Chateauvert, Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk
“Coming of age in New York in the eighties, the Stonewall Veterans were our heroes, mentors, protectors. First among them, to me, was Storme DeLarverie, the biracial drag king who always claimed to have thrown the first punch. When I talk about the Queer Virtues of courage and risk, Storme leaps to mind: her tall, confident frame standing at the door of Fat Cat or Cubby Hole, nodding silent greetings to her girls as we’d walk in, her presence itself the signal that we were safe—safe to gather, safe to be ourselves; her presence itself embodying the gift, the legacy, of Stonewall.”
—Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity
“As individuals, we exercise agency every day, whether we realize it or not: we can wait for change or agitate for change; wish or engage. Challenging the status quo only happens when individuals act, modeling courage and inspiring others to join them. The Stonewall riots provide an apt lesson in generating change. Having spent fifteen years in the darkness of my own personal closet before I mustered enough courage to step out into the light, I am one of the countless many whose life course has been profoundly altered by those who refused to wait and wish. #DeeplyGrateful.”
“We are living through a moment of physical and political assault, and our communities are under siege. Those of us with privilege in any of its forms have an obligation to resist by all means available.
We have overcome before and we will overcome again, but I urge everyone to stay visible, to make clear that we are here, that we are queer and trans and genderqueer, and that those who would see us returned to the shadows and closets had better get used to it.”
“Andy Warhol once famously said, ‘They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.’ The changes that have swept America in the half-century since Stonewall did not occur because time passed but because people fought (and in some cases died) for change to occur. As we celebrate this June, let us not forget what it took for us to get to where we are now, nor take it for granted, as these gains are fragile and can easily be swept away.”
“When Stonewall unfolded, I was a nervous nine-year-old Catholic school kid living in Denver, Colorado, utterly unaware of the fierce queer souls paving the way. It took many years, but I learned to uncover and to love my queer self. Now I feel the full measure of gratitude I hold for my beautiful brave ancestors.”
“Fifty years later, the ghosts of Stonewall we describe in Queer (In)Justice continue to haunt us. Patterns of homophobic and transphobic police profiling, harassment, and abuse, increasingly focused on those who led the Stonewall uprising—trans women of color, queer and gender nonconforming people of color, homeless queer youth—persist in spite of apologies, rainbow patrol cars, and cop contingents in Pride. Today is a day to honor the power of our resistance and to recommit to building a world where the queer and trans people of color who sparked movements for LGBTQ liberation at Stonewall, the Compton Cafeteria, Coopers’ Donuts, and beyond can not only survive, but thrive, safe from police, prison and community violence.”
“On the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, I am simultaneously paying my respects to the queers, drag queens, transgender women, who fought back against police violence and rolling my eyes at the NYPD ‘apology’ for raiding Stonewall Inn. An apology that counts would have come decades sooner and been accompanied by structural changes in the raced/classed/gendered policing of queers and all marginalized communities. But no. I don’t fall for performance and feel-good symbolism over structural transformation and hope you won’t, either. Oh, and by the way: we should also honor August, 1966, when trans people and drag queens and gay hustlers fought back against police at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district; like Stonewall, this was not gay, white respectability protesting, but rather furious, fed-up people, especially trans women, drag queens, and queers of color who’d been fucked with one too many times.”