Friday, June 24, 2011

The First Gay Pride Was a RIOT

Have you ever heard of the Stonewall Riots? If not, you are not alone. But, I think they need to be addressed, especially considering that it is gay pride month.

In Denver, we celebrated pride last weekend with our annual gay pride fest, sponsored by our GLBT center (and many corporate donors). There was a parade, there was dancing, there were drag shows. It was a big party and I, with most of the attendees, was drunk all weekend.

While there is nothing wrong with a big party, or getting drunk, I think that there is something missing from this celebration. Mainly, the activism. The first gay pride parade happened the day after the stonewall riots, as a protest to the police brutality and the discriminatory laws that the LGBT community experienced at the time.

Previous to the 1970s in the United States, it was illegal to openly engage in homosexual conduct. Police brutality against LGBT individuals was incredibly pervasive, and it went completely unnoticed by the mainstream culture.

Then only gay bars that existed at the time were underground bars run by the mob. The Stonewall Inn was one of these bars. At 1:20am on June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn. This had happened before, but the LGBT community had finally had enough. The patrons of the bar refused to follow protocol for these raids, refusing to go with the officers. Many people were arrested, but the wagons sent to take them to the jailhouse had not arrived yet and they had to wait. Those released from the bar did not leave quickly, instead they stuck around, crowding the outside and drawing more of a crowd from the neighborhood and nearby bars. Some drag queens decided to perform for the police by posing, primping, and dancing in exaggerated ways. The police got violent, and a riot started.

This was the first time the LGBT community fought back, and it was brilliant. The next day, for the first time, most of the LGBT community risked getting arrested and marched down the streets of new york in solidarity. This sparked what we now know as the gay civil rights movement and gained us many of the rights we have today, as queer people, including the right to get drunk in the park for our yearly gay pride festival.

So, why then, are we not continuing the work that these brave people did? Sure, there are a few people involved in social justice organizing for the queer community, if you're reading this then it's likely that you are. But the LGBT community at large is complacent. Are we happy to just get drunk and ignore the fact that we still do not have equal rights. We still face discrimination and police brutality. We still can't marry the people we love.

So what are we doing about it? What are you doing about it? Celebrate, yes, but then do something. We need to make changes, and fast. If you think the people who want to take our rights away from us are getting drunk and not organizing, then you'll be taken by surprise when we don't have any rights anymore.

The LGBT community is facing more backlash than we have in a long while, it's time to fight back and get all the rights we deserve.

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