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In the early morning hours of June 28,1969 – 47 years ago today – New York City police stormed into the Stonewall Inn and lit a fire that still burns.
While raids on openly gay bars in 1960s Manhattan were nothing new, this time things were different. Inspired by the activism of the anti-Vietnam and civil rights protests, this time the gay community fought back.
Those who weren’t under arrest refused to leave. Those who were arrested refused to cooperate. Soon, the crowd become a rebellion, and the rebellion became a movement.
Exactly one year later, LGBT activists had organized to the level of hosting marches in four major American cities – including New York – to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. These original marches were given a simple name that stands to this day: Pride.
It’s hard to believe that Stonewall happened less than fifty years ago because so much has occurred within the gay community since then that has transformed us all.
Case in point: Remember last June when Facebook became a Skittle explosion following the Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriage? After all the turbulent unrest and human rights battles of the 1960s – and, frankly, all the battles we’re still fighting today – can we just pause and take in that one magic moment when an African-American president sat in a rainbow-colored White House?
In another historic move, last Friday President Obama announced the area around the Stonewall Inn has been declared the country’s first national monument to LGBT rights. As if that wasn’t epic enough, the Pope weighed in over the weekend as well, stating that the church itself should “apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended.”
This is a dizzying amount of progress, and yet – as I write from one of the 26 states with zero employment protection for sexual orientation – I’m reminded of how far we have left to go. In fact, just a few weeks ago my home state of North Carolina made national news for spending millions of dollars in an effort to keep transgender females out of women’s restrooms. Ostensibly, this was supposed to be for “public safety” although, having shared dance club bathrooms with drag queens for years, I can assure you they are far more concerned with tucking it in than pulling it out.
Regardless, until everyone is equal under the law, the point is that there’s a lot of work to be done, not only in the United States, but wherever discrimination lives. (Maybe you don’t need me to remind you that there are still 10 countries where being gay or bisexual is punishable by death.) Obviously, not everyone will feel called to be on the front lines of equality but, as I mentioned yesterday, we are all being called to carry the message of unity in our own way.
Thus, even with heavy hearts in the wake of Orlando, there is still a reason to hope. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And on the anniversary of Stonewall, we can all celebrate the fact that this arc looks very much like a rainbow, still standing proud, after a long and ongoing storm.