Here we are in 2019, the momentous 50th anniversary of the iconic Stonewall Rebellion that began the modern LGBTQ rights movement. The pitched battles between LGBTQ people and the NYPD that set things in motion on that humid, long-ago summer night led us inexorably to where we are as a community today. Among the resisters present at the Stonewall Inn when agents of the State Liquor Authority (SLA) and the city’s Vice Squad burst through the doors, were Black drag queen Marsha P. Johnson, Black lesbian Storme DeLarverie, and trans Latina Sylvia Rivera, whose exploits have largely been whitewashed out of the Rebellion’s history. These pioneers and their contemporaries changed the way the world saw the LGBT community, and, reciprocally, how the LGBTQ community looked at itself. It is apropos, therefore, to once again take stock of the state of our beloved rainbow, half a century on, and perhaps glean for ourselves how we’ve fared on our journey, and whether we are still moving forward today.
Of course, the turbulence of the Sixties is now part of a fading record; the spirit that shaped the counterculture era of protest has given way, as all eras do, to the divagations of other things. Vietnam was replaced by Watergate, the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis slipped off as a darker time—the AIDS holocaust—arrived and gave rise to GMHC and ACT UP. The annual Pride March through NYC, and its West Coast counterpart in San Francisco, morphed from political statements to outright street parties (and to corporate sales pitch festivals in recent years), and new generations of the rainbow’s children gave to our popular culture new arts and terms of art. It works both literary and salacious, sexual orientation, gender identity, living and loving in one’s reality of person and purpose, entered the lexicon of our discourse.
Fifty years: two scores and ten, a whole tapestry of time’s own making, we took over the ballroom, boarded Noah’s Arc, spoke the L word aloud, made our metamorphic transition, and bisected the sensual divide. Even as those young rebels of Stonewall—a delightful, multihued cross-section of the queer city—grew up and took their places within the Establishment, some going back into the closet as they did so, others, undaunted, blossomed in all their flamboyance before the world. The Velvet Mafia gave us a soundtrack while Paris burned, and we strode on, even as many of us fell at the hands of an uncaring, even hostile society.
Now we are here, in that future the younglings of 1969 saw only in their dreams. We look around, and we see miracles: marriage equality, the end of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, gay governors and Congresspeople, anchormen and talk-show hostesses. We rejoice in our entry to the mainstream, where Orange Is The New Black and out actors build empires. We’ve taken countless steps forward as we’ve grown up and out, but the rainbow is still surrounded by storm clouds, and they gather even as we celebrate the sunshine. Transgender troops, granted entrée into our fighting forces in their truth wearing our country’s uniform, have seen that honor cruelly taken back from them, while our leadership, instead of promoting understanding and acceptance, continues to encourage hatred instead. We’ve seen violence against us rise to new levels of horror, indeed even the most visible and famous of us are not immune to attacks of the most heinous nature. These are the thunderbolts that still resound even as we see our precious rainbow peeking through the rain and fog.
Far abroad, but in our consciousness, too, are our brothers and sisters in places like Chechnya and Nigeria and Brazil, who live in peril because homophobia and transphobia are policies of the state. Their anguished souls cry out to be read into the record, and though we cringe in so doing, we speak their names as well.
Fifty years. We have done wonders, we of Stonewall and Ailey and Baldwin, we of Black Pride and Trans Pride and pride in our dreams made real. I first walked the streets of my beloved Village as a high school kid, frightened of what would happen to me if my parents found out what feelings were stirring in my adolescent mind and spirit. The march of the LGBT community was also my march—albeit not without struggle—as I, too, became part of the fabric of our growing story, until now I look back on it from the other end. The state of our rainbow, I think, is still fabulous, but not without its challenges, which we and the coming generations will rise to meet with the loud, unabashed courage we’ve always had. I can’t wait to step off into the next half-century…and beyond!