Today is Stonewall Day, a very important commemoration in the LGBTQ community.
Even though I was born a couple of months before the June, 28 1969 riot at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City--widely regarded as the birth of the modern LGBTQ liberation and rights movement--I consider myself to be part of the first generation born after Stonewall.
Those of us that are 42 and younger this year are not the first generation to come of age after the Stonewall Riot, but we are among the first to have no memory of the event, to have not known a time before, and to have come of age after the events of the 1970's that that seminal event in the Village unleashed.
Over the oh-so-gay squiggy do-dad below, I want to share some things I observed, and I want to invite you, especially those of you 42 and younger (but not limited to), to share your observations and experiences in the comments.
Telling our stories is a central part of the success of our struggle for equality and liberation. Feel free to tell them here....
[I have been to the Stonewall Inn. Once. A piece of advice: if you want to visit the Village and go to a fun, small neighborhood bar, have your picture taken outside the Stonewall and then go over to Ty's. Better cocktails. --CM]
LGBTQ folks born just after Stonewall came of age in the 1980's. We got our drivers licenses, if we got them, in 1985. Harvey Milk had been assassinated when we were in grade school (I was aware of it because our family watched the news religiously--many of us may not have been aware at all), Anita Bryant was already a joke amongst everyone but the most die-hard conservatives, and by the time we were watching old, scratchy 16mm films in driver's ed, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank had already won election. (He was not out, yet).
There is something else about our generation: as we were becoming sexually aware, maybe even active as High School students, we never knew a time without AIDS as burgeoning sexual beings.
By the time I was getting ready to go to college, Act Up was marching, we might have had pink triangle buttons pinned to our backpacks (I did) and in college, some of us marched in demonstrations chanting "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!". As the 90's broke New York playwrights like Tony Kushner were gaining prominence with LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS related subject matter, Derek Jarman--nearing the end of his life--was making films. People were dying. I lost my first friend, a grad student at my university whom I was close to as an undergrad, to AIDS in 1988. They kept dying. And dying.
In the 90's, we saw tremendous breakthroughs in HIV research and the first really successful treatments begin to emerge. People my age got to see that along with our elders, to share an experience with older generations of gay men. I wonder if this is why many of us learned our gay history at the knees of older men and had something visceral--horrible, but visceral--in common with people twice our age. Is this why some of us are more comfortable socializing closely with older men, and have them as real friends whereas many people in their 20's today do not seem to as much? AIDS, in its horror, created a real inter-generational bond in the circles in which I socialized as a 20-something.
[ Most people half my age in the developed world have never seen a person with full-blown AIDS. If I may editorialize for a moment, I am glad they haven't in one way, and wish they had in another. Having known many people who died horribly of this disease, including my step-uncle (a former Methodist Bishop), is part of what has kept me practicing safer sex to this day. ]
In the political realm, we have seen the beginnings of marriage equality by the passage of non-discrimination ordinances in some of the larger cities, and the fights that surrounded them (seen them passed, repealed, passed); seen civil unions, passed and repealed, seen private companies extend same-sex partner benefits (thank you, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, for having done that for my ex partner and I before marriage equality came to Massachusetts!); we have seen marriage equality finally come to state after state now in just a few years.
We have also seen the bigotry of DADT and DOMA, signed into law by a Democratic President many of us voted for more than once. We have seen setbacks and struggles. We have seen horrible acts of terror. We have seen Matthew Shepard. We have a lot more work to do, but we have seen, in the span of 42 years more progress in LGBTQ rights than the last 100 had to offer--not that people in many countries were not struggling for those rights over the last 100 years.
In religion, we have seen a tremendous polarization between the left and the right. We have seen ministers and priests defrocked; we have seen straight allies like the former Bishop of Newark, the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong ordain the first openly gay priest in the Anglican Communion and take the flack for it; we have seen a gay man become the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire. We have seen denomination after denomination officially accept LGBTQ people not only as equal, but as clergy.
One thing that I think is important for our generation to remember is that what we have seen has been a speeding-up of progress that could not have happened if it were not for the generations that came before us. But for the brave men and women of our parent's generation that turned over those paddy-wagons at Stonewall and threw the beer bottles; the ones that got arrested just for being gay, or stayed in the closet for fear of losing their jobs (still happens today); for people like Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society; for people like Magnus Hirschfeld; for people like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas who lived in fair openness at a time when it wasn't even done in Paris; but for people like Walt Whitman in the 19th Century who dared to play with homoerotic imagery--however tamely--in his poetry, or for Oscar Wilde who was broken in the Reading Gaol for simply acting on his impulses, or Christopher Isherwood who wrote about his experiences as a gay man in the 1930's and onwards; but for these earlier generations, what has happened so quickly in the last 42 years would not be possible.
Now, it's our turn to keep the movement moving, to be involved, not to be satisfied with anything but full equality.
It's obvious that I talk about my experience as a gay man of my generation that has always been out, or at least since High School. Many of us have not have that experience. Many of us have observed these events, these developments and set-backs from the darkness of the closet and its cloak of terror and shame. This is the other very important thing that we must remember: while our generation may have had it easier in some places, in some cities, in some states to come out than older ones did, our generation still has experienced the closet and continues to to this day. It's getting better, it's getting easier, but these stories belong to our generation, too.
A lot has transpired in the last 42 years that makes life better for LGBTQ folks. A lot has transpired that has put many obstacles in our paths.
This is my essay. Please, please, share yours. If you haven't seen psychodrew's excellent diary I ask you please to also read it, comment on it, and rec it.
Happy Pride, my friends and allies. We have come a long, long way.
This diary is dedicated to the memory of my friend Stan.