Cross-post of an essay by Zeke Stokes, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s Director of Communication.
In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall riots took place in New York City’s West Village and became widely recognized as the first significant instance in American history when individuals in the gay community fought back against the persecution of the government.
Following the uprising and in short order, residents of the Village had organized an effort to concentrate on establishing places for gays and lesbians to congregate and be open about their sexual orientation without fear of being arrested. The patrons of the Stonewall Inn likely had no idea the trajectory of progress they would set in motion; they were simply tired of being treated as second-class citizens and were standing up for their basic human rights and the dignity to be and to love who they chose. But in doing so, the LGBT rights movement was born, and nothing would ever be the same.
Forty-two years later, we honor the courage and sacrifice of those who stood up to the police that early morning in New York. We remember the brothers and sisters we lost along the way to HIV/AIDS, homophobia, transphobia and indifference. We mourn those who took their own lives because they were bullied or harassed.
Yet, we celebrate media milestones like Will & Grace that reminded Americans we are their sons and daughters, their neighbors, their friends. We herald the states that have acted to allow same-sex marriages, passage of hate crimes legislation and the coming repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And we remind ourselves that there is much more work to be done.
I am proud to be a part of the SLDN “It Gets Better” video released today. As I watched the celebrations in front of the Stonewall Inn live on CNN last Friday night, following the historic marriage vote in New York, the fact that it truly is getting better was highlighted for me in a most profound way.
We are not where we want to be on many fronts, but we are surely not where we were. And as we look to the future, it’s important to remember that fact and to honor those who brought us this far.