June is LGBT Pride Month, a time when LGBTQI+ community members, family, friends and advocates acknowledge and celebrate the gift of diversity that is unique to each of us. Many municipalities host “Pride Parades” where LGBTQI+ community members outwardly profess their rights to live freely and openly as themselves. This is also a time to acknowledge the many accomplishments of LGBTQI+ community members both past and present as well as mark strides in our current social/political arenas.
LGBTQ Pride has its roots in the historic Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969, 50 years ago. The multi-day uprising that occurred at the Stonewall Inn was the result of a police raid of a local LGBTQ safe haven. It sparked the beginning of the modern LGBTQ rights movement in the United States.
During much the 1960s and early 1970s being anything other than cis gender and heterosexual was considered very problematic and was certainly not all together safe. Gay, Lesbian, Trans people and Drag Queens were often harassed and assaulted in their communities, often by law enforcement. A majority of Americans still believed that just being in a same sex relationship was immoral and engaging in “lewd” criminal conduct. Trans people and Drag Queens in New York and other cities were required by law to wear at least three items of apparel pertaining to their sex assigned at birth or face arrest for breaking “the three item rule.”
When police raided gay and lesbian bars, patrons who were arrested had their identities and home addresses printed in the local papers, furthering a sense of shame and fear among the larger LGBTQ community. The lives, marriages and jobs of those arrested in these raids were adversely and often permanently affected.
When the New York City Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn on the evening of June 28th, the patrons in the bar fought back. The uprising became so chaotic, that after forcing the patrons from the building, the police had to seek shelter inside the very establishment they had just raided. The crowds outside the Stonewall Inn reportedly grew into thousands, requiring back-up from local police precincts for crowd control. Only by the light of day was the situation calm enough that the barricaded officers were able to leave the Stonewall.
After some very negative articles appeared in the press the next day relating to the events of the night before, protesters took to the streets again. This protest was quite violent as police came in force with club, shields, and other deterrents to engage the much larger angry crowd. Residents discovered an angry power they did not know they possessed and they were not afraid to show it. Some in the crowd opted for a less violent approach and taunted the police lines with “Rockette” style kick lines and chanting or singing in front of shielded police ranks.
One year after the riots, residents and patrons of the Stonewall Inn once again took to the streets, this time to march down Christopher Street towards Central Park in solidarity and peace. Police officers who just a year earlier were involved in the riots were now under order to protect the marchers. The march began with only a few hundred people but the “parade” ended in Central Park with thousands.
Pride Parades are now celebrated in cities throughout the United States and internationally. This year’s WorldPride — the largest international LGBTQ Pride celebration — was held for the first time in the United States. On June 1, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the grand opening of the New York State WorldPride Welcome Center, located in New York City’s West Village just steps from the Stonewall National Monument, and on June 5, the Governor announced the grand opening of the LGBTQ Pride Month exhibit at the Capitol in Albany.
This was the first year the LGBTQ Rainbow Pride Flag flew at the New York State capitol building! The State has also made significant progress in LGBTQ rights over the past several years, with the passage of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) in 2002; the Marriage Equality in 2011; and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and the ban on Conversion Therapy for minors in 2019. Just days ago, the New York State Legislature approved a bill that would ban the “Panic Defense” in cases of violence against an LGBTQ person.
Locally, the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance will show a movie on the Stonewall Riots on Wednesday, June 26th at 7 pm in the Cantwell Room of the Saranac Lake Public Library.
The organization will also sponsor a monthly adult LGBTQI+ mixer night and a student LGBTQI+ group with the Saranac Lake Youth Center, events in Plattsburgh, and an Adirondack North Country Pride Event in October to celebrate the beginning of LGBTQ History Month. The Alliance also offers professional development training programs for organizations focusing on gender and sexual orientation in all aspects of life and employment.