Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stonewall's Birthday

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, a motley crowd of hustlers, drag queens, and other gay fringe folk resisted a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a Mafia-owned gay hangout in Greenwich Village, and touched off several nights of rioting in Manhattan.

The event spawned the formation of gay rights groups throughout the world, and is considered the birth of modern gay activism. (I wrote a bit about the event a year ago in these pages.) On the one-year anniversary of the riots, the first Gay Pride commemoration took place in New York and Los Angeles. Today, June is considered Gay Pride Month, with thousands of festivals and parades taking place throughout the world.

I wonder if any of those drag queens at the Stonewall Inn could have imagined that same-sex marriage is now (or soon will be) legal in 6 states. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa currently allow gay marriages to be performed, with Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire scheduled to begin allowing such ceremonies in the coming months. New York and Washington, DC, currently recognize same-sex marriages from other states, but do not allow them to be performed at home.

Those tortured queers at the Stonewall would probably not be surprised that, along with the activism their actions inadvertently ignited, a more powerful backlash was created as well. While 6 states recognize same-sex marriages, a whopping 29 states have passed laws or constitutional amendments banning them. Most famously, California allowed the marriages for about five months last year, before the right was removed by constitutional amendment (I wrote about the passage of the infamous Prop 8 here).

Anita Bryant's anti-gay crusade of the 1970s seems almost quaint now, measured against the virulent gay-bashing still displayed by the likes of Pat Robertson (who blamed the 9/11 attacks on homosexuality), Larry Craig (the hypocrite who plays footsie in airport men's rooms), and those stand-up teens who strapped Matthew Shepherd to a Wyoming fence and left him to die.

Back in 1969, I was totally unaware of the Stonewall Rebellion and its political and sociological implications. I was barely a pre-teen, and spent all my time and energy trying to avoid getting beat up by the bully down the street.

I was introduced to gay-bashing decades before there was a name for it.

Tonight, though, I hope you'll join me in raising a glass to those hustlers, street boys, and men in heels who struck back when they were accosted at the Stonewall Inn forty years ago.