50 Years Later: Why Stonewall Still Matters

LGBTQ inclusion in the United States seems to have progressed at a two-steps- forward-one-step-back speed from the days immediately following the Stonewall riots through to the political climate of today.

Chad Smith
Jun 27, 2019 · 5 min read
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By Rey Ahmed, Marlon Francisco, and Chad Smith

LGBTQ inclusion in the United States seems to have progressed at a two-steps- forward-one-step-back speed from the days immediately following the Stonewall riots through to the political climate of today.

The fact that it has progressed at all, let alone to the magnitude it has, underscores the importance of Stonewall. As tragic and horrible of an event the Stonewall riots were in our history, without it we would not be where we are today. And Stonewall’s impact will be just as potent 50 years from now.

LGBTQ inclusion is an issue of global proportions. There are parts of the world where the LGBTQ community is not welcomed or represented in any meaningful way. So while we have made substantial progress in the 50 years following Stonewall, there is still work to be done.

The three questions foremost on our minds when thinking about how the LGBTQ community has integrated into society over the last five decades are:

1) How far have we come?

2) Where we are still lacking?

3) Is full LGBTQ equality attainable?

How far have we come?

The progress that has been made in this area is striking. One need look no further than Pete Buttegieg, who is probably the most high profile example of how far we’ve come; an openly gay man who has emerged as a top-five contender for President of the United States. Other examples of late include Lillian Bonsignore being appointed New York City’s new Chief of Emergency Medical Services, the first woman and openly gay person to achieve the honor. The progress is evident in other parts of the world as well, as shown in 2009 by Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Iceland’s first female prime minister and the world’s first openly lesbian head of government; Luxembourg’s first openly gay prime-minister the first transgender representative recently elected in the Phillipines. And in what has been described as a watershed moment, Ireland has an openly gay prime minister in Leo Varadkar.

LGBTQ acceptance and inclusion has also occurred in much greater numbers socioeconomically. Throughout the corporate world, the Human Rights Campaign has evolved to the point that you have top talent throughout the country will not consider certain companies that fall short of this goal. In order to be truly an open company, a change in corporate culture needs to be embraced. And that is an easier thing to say than it is to accomplish because for every corporation that supports you, there are individuals whose beliefs may not gel with a more inclusive work environment.

The amount of queer representation in television and movies has gone up dramatically over the last two decades. What that publicity has helped to do is reinforce to the general public the idea that the LGBTQ community is here and it’s normal.

Conversely, what has also happened since Stonewall is that the narrow mindset continues to be squeezed thinner. Included in the increasingly narrow contingent which continues to vocalize its dissent are people being charged with hate crimes and losing their businesses and financial standings. This is due in part to House Democrats approving The Equality Act to extend civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community.

So whereas the queer community was decades ago the more underrepresented and vociferous public, it’s the dissenters who are now in the minority today.

Where we are still lacking?

For every development that advances LGBTQ inclusion, such as Taiwan’s recent historic legalization of same sex marriage, there are other places around the world where the prospects of such a development taking place are slim to none. And employment discrimination against the LGBTQ community still exists. For instance, LGBTQ people in the OECD are 7% less likely to be employed than non-LGBTQ people, with homosexual applicants being 50% less likely to be invited to a job interview than their heterosexual counterparts. Labour earnings for LGBTQ people are about 4% lower and they are 11% less likely to hold a high managerial position.

As to where it’s most acute, if you look at the LGBTQ acronym, the T is really the part of the community where progress is much slower to come by. Why? It may be because the general public is much less shocked with what happens behind closed doors compared to what happens right before our very eyes. Transitioning involves almost always a change in both the person who transitions and in the social relations with the people who interact with them, potentially leading to confusion and inadvertent mis-gendering. What’s more, there are still very few places in the United States that have full non-discriminatory practices in place for transgender people.

To say that transgender people are underrepresented in the corporate workplace would be an easy generalization to make without facts to back up that idea. Finding that data, however, is elusive, as some transgender or gender non-confirming people don’t necessarily fully transition or even come-out. The fact is that there are other nations that are not as welcoming of the LGBTQ community.

What surprises us tends to make us uncomfortable. There needs to be an appreciation of the struggles transgender people go through. Also necessary is a willingness by organizations to provide education and a willingness to be educated not just for the organizations, but for their employees.

Is full LGBTQ equality attainable?

We have talked a lot about inclusion, but equality is a more subjective concept. What does equality mean for people striving to achieve it? And what does equality mean in a workplace?

Though we have come far with LGBTQ inclusion on a global scale, it is important to note that this is not the future that the LGBTQ community envisioned 50 years ago. The line from Stonewall to today is not linear. Issues like same sex marriage were not likely being discussed 50 years ago. We do not know what each year brings. But the days of accepting the demonization of homosexuality are long gone.

How culture evolves throughout the world will also be a critical factor in trying to achieve LGBTQ equality. So while a global company like Fitch is accepting, the firm has offices in parts of the world where homosexuality is not accepted.


Whether full LGBTQ equality will be attained will depend on your definition of equality. And that definition will be very different 50 years from now, in much the same way that the environment for the LGBTQ community has changed over the last 50 years. But while LGBTQ equality is certainly attainable in certain parts of the world, achieving it worldwide may not be feasible.













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