In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a small group of gay, lesbian, and transgender people were herded by police out of a Greenwich Village bar called the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall patrons, many of whom were self-identified “drag queens,” had had enough of the dehumanizing policing tactics of the NYPD and that fateful summer evening they just said no. And with that, a movement for civil rights was born.
That night they shoved back, threw bricks, bottles, and punches. As the police defensively barricaded themselves inside the bar, the fight spread through the Village, then through the country, then through history.
This uprising and further protests and rioting over the following nights were the watershed moments in the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights movement and the impetus for organizing LGBT pride marches and other events of public visibility for acceptance and equality.
Many of the Stonewall-era trailblazers were regulars of the West Village gay nightlife scene. But for many other people who found themselves thrust into a grassroots movement, the event prompted a first full public coming out, which was not a matter without consequences. In 1969, even mild affectional acts between same-sex couples were illegal in much of the United States, including New York City. An arrest, which carried with it an inevitable “public lewdness” newspaper outing, could instantly end a career, destroy a family, and derail a future. Bullying gay men and lesbians was considered normal, using them as the punchline of offensive jokes was commonplace, and violence, often brutal violence, was acceptable when directed toward those who found themselves in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and in the company of the wrong people.
Many believe that the fight for LGBT acceptance and equality is a battle that was won on June 26, 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5 – 4 decision that the Fourteenth Amendment requires all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. That victory, while welcome and immensely powerful, did not change the public hatred and discrimination faced by many in the queer community, and it did not end the public battle for LGBT rights and legal protections from discrimination.
There is no federal law, for instance, barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In 28 states, including Missouri, you can get fired for being lesbian, bisexual, or gay. In 30 states, including Missouri, you can be fired for being transgender. That said, 22 states and the District of Columbia prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity by statute.
While same-sex couples can get married in every state in the union, sadly “religious liberty” legislation in many states and municipalities make it possible to discriminate against same-sex couples. Also, much discrimination in jobs and housing happens below the radar — it’s easy to turn down an application for an apartment by simply choosing someone else.
But the law of the land and Jesus’ commandment that we love each other as he had loved us doesn’t always dictate how we treat people. It may not be plainly visible, but lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender fluid, and nonbinary folks are cast aside as misfits, deviants, and perverts in small towns, urban centers, and in the Body of Christ. They are marginalized, avoided, harassed, and killed for loving who they love and being true to themselves. They are stripped of their rights, dignity, and lives because they don’t fit into a neat little box that aligns with our historical, cultural norms.
And so every June, LGBTQ+ people and their allies take to the streets, stepping out of closets and putting aside genuine fears to remember the brave people who stood up to hatred, bigotry, and violence. They wave their flags, show their hearts, celebrate with joy and unity, and demand equality with an intense need to make a difference for the next generation. They are united by the colors of the rainbow, and they use pride month and gay pride celebrations as a way to be seen.