Gay Pride (in the name of love)

The big LGBT bash goes down this weekend, 40 years after Stonewall

Published June 26, 2009 7:27PM (EDT)

This weekend is Gay Pride weekend, and activists have a lot to celebrate: This time last year, only one U.S. state -- Massachusetts -- allowed same-sex marriage. But in the past several months, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Iowa have all passed legislation allowing gay couples to wed. At the same time, California became the first state to revoke existing marriage right, and progress on LGBT issues seems to have stalled on the federal level, as advocates criticize President Obama for backpedaling on his promise to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and failing to take action on Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Along with bittersweet current events, celebrants will also be commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. On June 28, 1969, patrons of New York's Stonewall Inn fought back, for the first time, as police violently raided the bar. Their courageous stand sparked the modern gay rights movement.

Unfortunately, not all of Stonewall's wounds have been healed, even after four decades. As The Advocate reports, 89-year-old Seymour Pine, the NYPD deputy inspector who led the raid, continues to defend the attack. "I don’t think not liking gay people had anything to do with it," he said on WNYC-FM's "Brian Lehrer Show." Later, in response to a direct question about whether the police should have invaded Stonewall, Pine replied, "When we took the action that we took that night, we were on the side of right. We never would have done something without supervision from the federal authorities and the state authorities. They were involved with this just as well as we were."

Meanwhile, a NY Daily News article interviews veterans of the early gay rights movement. The men rhapsodize about their Stonewall experience."You felt protected there," 61-year-old Tony Lanigan-Schmidt told the paper. "It became a place that I was able to be myself." Ellen Shumsky, 68, returned to New York from Paris to come out of the closet and join the nascent Gay Liberation Front. "I had kind of an epiphany," she said. "It felt like this organization was going to heal my torn self. I came rushing back." And while activists quoted in the article praise how far the movement has come, Lanigan-Schmidt laments that "gay people are still fighting to be seen as full human beings and want someone to have and to hold."

A prominent Stonewall myth holds that the riots were an uprising by the gay community against decades of oppression. This would be true if the "gay community" consisted of Stonewall patrons. The bar’s regulars, though, were mostly teenagers from Queens, Long Island and New Jersey, with a few young drag queens and homeless youths who squatted in abandoned tenements on the Lower East Side.

Now, perhaps Stonewall patrons weren't representative of the "gay community" as a whole (and I'd challenge Truscott to find a bar that does contain a real cross-section), but does this devalue the contributions of "drag queens" and "homeless youths"? After all, the group assembled at the bar that night did still manage to galvanize one of the most powerful and successful civil rights movements ever. With that in mind, this weekend's revelers would do well to keep this history in mind: As Ann at Feministing points out, homeless and low-income members of the LGBT community still face harassment and violence. She urges gays visiting New York to "commemorate Stonewall with activism, not tourism."


While Ann's point is well taken, I think those who are working so hard for LGBT rights richly deserve a few days of hard partying. Gay Pride weekend is about celebrating victories; lamenting losses and fighting obstacles can wait for Monday. That's why I want to leave you with the sweetest story I've come across today. Meet Eric Marcoux and Eugene Woodworth, a couple that has been together for 56 years. They spoke to Portland's Willamette Week about their radicalization in the years after Stonewall, as well as their continuing activism for marriage equality in Oregon. "Marriage is an archetypal word," Marcoux told the paper. "It speaks right to the heart of  people and says something about our place in society, it incorporates us into family. There is emotional context."


Have a wonderful Pride weekend, everyone! And then, after we sober up, let's get back to work so that we have even more triumphs to celebrate this time next year.



By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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