Incredibly moving piece. Thank you for this. I wish that I could be this articulate at wrangling all my dis-jointed thoughts and epiphanous moments into cohesive ideas and themes. So please forgive my incredibly ham-handed attempt to explain why this history and its participants need to be enshrined and memorialized in the collective zeitgeist.
I was only a youth when the “long hot summer” of 1967 burned it’s way into dominating the news cycle of the day. I lived in the small Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario, on the opposite side of the Detroit River, and I remember the flames being visible from the vantage point of our address at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge.
I was only eight years old, but as the child of parents who would be, in the current vernacular, identified as social progressives, I was already cultivating a broader world view from reading the subscription dailies Windsor Star and Toronto Globe and Mail, as well as the weeklies Time, Newsweek and McLean’s. Although this may sound suspiciously like a self-revisionist bit of malarkey, I was already capable of reading, and messy printing, by the time I started school. I have proof thanks to my mother saving all of my notes and a very clumsy attempt at replicating a newspaper from the summer before I started school. Anyway, back to the story.
It was a confusing time for a child inheriting a lot of privelege; on the one hand, we were watching American cities go up in flames, and simultaneously participating in our country’s 100th anniversary and the celebration of our nation’s newfound prestige and adulthood known as Expo 67. The dichotomy was difficult to comprehend, and although my mother attempted to explain by use of relatable analogies, the stories from that summer left me confused and angry.
The Attica Riots, the Stonewall Riots, all the protests that erupted into violence, all those people that stood resolute in the face of systemic oppression and injustices, men and women who frequently paid with their lives for protesting, these are the citizens that should be memorialized in history and popular culture. I do not want to diminish the incredible accomplishments and cultural significance of Dr. King and Rosa Parks et al; but the rioters at the Stonewall Inn, the protesters on Castro Street, the organizers of the first Pride parades weren’t just LGBTQ, weren’t a solid phalanx of oppressed middle-class white boys, but a melange of blacks and Latinos, some from small town America, some first or second generation immigrants, bound together by being on the fringes and possessing little to no social and political capital.
The history of these collections of uprisings and protests are being white-washed. The film “Stonewall”, recast with a generic white lead, revisionist tales of the AIDS crisis personified by Rock Hudson as heroic barrier - breaker and Elizabeth Taylor being portrayed as the white philanthropist saviour giving the charitable cause its face; Fire Island; preppy white boys as the torch-bearers in corporate community support and advertising; grieving parents, almost exclusively white and middle-class, portrayed with the “Aids Quilt”.
My mother explained to me that the rioters had had enough. That they were trying to explain to the white establishment, through the only weapon left to them, that they wanted representation and easement of their poverty and oppression; that they were giving notice that being marginalized by the government and its agencies had to end. Stonewall was the same, yes? A cauldron of fringe and marginalized people reaching the breaking point and venting their anger at the unfairness of it all.
Fifty years later, not only are PoC LGBTQ still being denied their voice, trans members of the community are being murdered at record rates, the scene of the spark that inflamed an entire generation to carry the fight has been gentrified and priced out of their reach, their historical accomplishments are being systematically white-washed and softened for the masses and now they’re facing the prospect of the government being hi-jacked by a group of white southerners eager to return the nation to the days of Jim Crow.
This is not progress. I can’t even begin to comprehend the anger and frustration of LGBTQ PoC. It appears to me that Lyndon Johnsons “Great Society” peaked about 40 years ago, and we’re now much closer to the nadir.