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The Legacy of Stonewall

by Meredith Aby-Keirstead |
July 1, 2004
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The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has had an important victory! On May 17, Massachusetts performed the first legal civil marriages of same-sex couples in the country. In November 2003, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled that the state’s ban on same sex marriages was illegal. It ordered that such marriages be legalized within six months. As queers and allies celebrate the victory in Massachusetts, it is important to reflect on where the movement has been and where it should go.

Stonewall: The Birth of the Modern Queer Liberation Movement

Thirty-five years ago on June 27, 1969, the LGBT community fought back in a new way. In the face of a brutal police raid on the Stonewall Inn, gays, lesbians and drag queens waged a historic fight back against police brutality and harassment. This group of working class, mostly black and Latino, queers fought against a police raid with rocks and bottles. Police attempts to put down the violence that they began failed. The intensity of the rebellion increased as police backup arrived. Word quickly spread throughout Greenwich Village about the events at the Stonewall and supporters came to aid in the fight.

The rebellion was not an isolated incident of militancy. Gays and lesbians had been organizing for decades. However, the public, out in the open and militant nature of the Stonewall Rebellion acted as a spark for the LGBT community in New York and internationally. During the next five days, demonstrators returned by the thousands. They called for an end to police repression. Leaflets demanded, “Get the Mafia and cops out of gay bars!” The community mobilized for ‘Gay Power.’

The Future for the Queer Movement

The battle against discrimination and for civil rights continues today. The issue that has created the most current controversy is that of gay marriage. This is an issue of civil rights. The federal government extends 1,425 benefits and privileges only to heterosexual married couples. This is wrong. The issue of gay marriage is being used by the Republican Party as a wedge to divide the people. They want people to focus on it instead of the economic and social crisis at home and the failure of U.S. policy in the Middle East. All progressive forces must continue to demand that the victory in Massachusetts be extended throughout the country.

Unfortunately, much conservative talk about family values has buried unique and successful thinking about love, family and commitment in the queer community. Historically, the LGBT community has defined relationships and family much more broadly than the nuclear family made up of two adults whose main purpose is to birth and raise children. Friends, relatives, children and romantic partners all fall under the definition of family in the queer community. It is important that we don’t lose this history when we advocate for the civil right of marriage for everyone. We must also remember that the queer movement stands for social change reaching far beyond the marriage issue - change that will benefit everyone, from the right to privacy in the workplace to affordable healthcare for all.

This summer there will be festivals and marches throughout the country celebrating the victories of the LGBT community. It is important to continue to fight to expand civil rights by continuing the spirit and legacy of Stonewall!