Almost anyone who hangs out on romance lists or visits romance blogs knows that June is “GLBT Pride Month”. But I wonder how many people know why the parades all happen in June. I'll admit that I didn't, not until yesterday when I started reading about the Stonewall riots. I'd heard of them, but I didn't know the details, and I didn't realize the connection with contemporary pride celebrations.
Forty-one years ago today, in the early hours of the morning, the New York City police raided a illegal, Mafia-owned bar on Christopher Street called the Stonewall Inn. The organized crime connections and unlicensed liquor were not the primary reason for this raid. Rather, this was a sadly typical crackdown on the homosexual community in Greenwich Village, for whom the Stonewall was something of a haven. The police burst in and started arresting the Stonewall's patrons, which included many transvestites, both male and female. This also wasn't unusual. At that time, it was literally against the law for men to wear female clothing or vice versa. Homosexuals could be arrested on a range of charges from soliciting to public indecency. Although the extreme persecution of the McCarthy era had eased somewhat, homosexuality was classified as a psychiatric disorder and gays and lesbians were generally considered to be in the same class as rapists and child molesters. If you were gay, your only recourse was to lay low, keep your preferences a secret, and hope that you'd be ignored.
On the night of June 28, 1969, however, something unusual did happen. The ruckus caused by the raid drew a crowd of several hundred bystanders, many of whom were themselves gay or were sympathizers. When the police began to rough up the Stonewall's patrons, they fought back, supported by the onlookers. The scene degenerated into a pitched battle. The police called for reinforcements. The gay crowd refused to be intimidated. They led the police a merry chase through the crooked, narrow streets of the West Village.
You can find a detailed discussion of Stonewall and its aftermath in Wikipedia. Many people view the Stonewall uprising as the birth of the gay pride movement. Stonewall was to gay rights what Rosa Parks' refusal to sit at the back of the bus was for civil rights. After Stonewall, homosexuals stopped trying to blend in. They began to raise their voices against discrimination and for equal rights.
That struggle is, of course, far from over. It's sad to see how, more than forty years later, individuals who are attracted to their own gender are still attacked, both physically and psychologically, still denied the right to marry in many areas, still barred from some careers if they are open about their orientation. It's easy to get discouraged. On the other hand, society has come a long way since Stonewall. Every year, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people become braver and more vocal. More proud.
In June 1999 the U.S. Department of the Interior designated 51 and 53 Christopher Street (the location of the Stonewall Inn), the street itself, and the surrounding streets as a National Historic Landmark. In 2009, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall, President Obama declared June to be National Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. I find these actions a bit ironic, given the fact that the “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy still afflicts gays in the military, and that right now the Supreme Court in California is hearing arguments on the desirability of banning gays from marrying.
I write GLBT romance and erotica. As I said last week at the Oh Get A Grip blog, I believe that the experience of love and desire is universal. It really doesn't matter what kind of genitalia your partner has. I think that the romance community may be more tolerant than society as a whole in this regard. Still, think about what it would be like if you couldn't buy M/M or F/F or M/M/F romance—if it was illegal, labeled as obscene or deviant. We've come a long way, but it could happen. The only way to prevent this sort of thing is to follow the lead of the people involved at Stonewall. Stand up and tell the world that you believe in a person's right to love whom they choose—and that you're proud to say it.