50 years ago, a group of courageous people stood up for the rights of the LGBTI community in the Stonewall uprising. IAM staff, taking part in the 50th anniversary celebration and World Pride Day NYC, reflect on the contribution the uprising had on the LGBTI movement worldwide, and the echoes that are still felt today.
What an extreme privilege and honour to be present at the 50-year celebration of Stonewall. Although the Stonewall uprising was not the first time that LGBTQ people protested, it is one of the most important turning points in the history of the LGBTQ community, contributing significantly to the gay liberation movement. It transformed the way that LGBTQ people understood themselves and the world, embodying love and resistance. Contextually, several social and political movements within the USA including the civil rights movement, the counterculture of the 1960’s and the anti-Vietnam movement served as catalysts for the Stonewall uprising.
At the time there were a limited number of welcoming establishments that accepted openly “gay people,” and gay bars were raided regularly. On the 28th June 1969 police officers conducted an early morning raid at the Stonewall Inn. In response, queer people and those sympathetic to queers instinctively made a stand, indicating boldly that enough is enough, demonstrating through a series of violent protests that they would not tolerate this abuse any longer. They quickly organised themselves into activist groups that made concrete efforts to create safe spaces for LGBTQ people where they could express themselves freely without fear of being arrested. Participants reported that transgender people were at the forefront of the resistance.
After the riots the LGBTQ community in New York faced the challenge of intersectional matters like race, gender, class and generational gaps that they needed to bridge to become an organised community. Within six months, two gay organisations were formed and on 28th June 1970, the first gay pride parade took place in New York in remembrance of the riots. Today, pride marches are organised globally not only to remember the historical event of Stonewall, but to raise awareness on the atrocious actions, policies and laws that still criminalises LGBTQ people.
June 2019 marks the largest international LGBTQ pride celebration in New York, Stonewall 50 – WorldPride NYC 2019 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots
Looking back at these events in the 60’s, we are extremely grateful for their bold actions. We are standing on the shoulders of heroes who risked everything for the liberation that we enjoy and celebrate today.
The ripple effect of this “embodied resistance of love” can be felt far and wide. The first Pride parade on African soil was held 21-years later in Johannesburg on 13 October 1990. Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) was established within the next 5 years in 1995 and from 2009 it became a safe space for LGBTQ people. In our African context safe and healthy spaces for the LGBTQ communities are still sorely needed, free from harmful, judgmental, attitudes and religious fundamentalism. Finding ways to bridge the same intersectional matters as in 1969 – race, class, equality, health, SOGIE, religion, culture, amongst others – remains key to building a collaborative LGBTQ movement. It is IAM’s hope that we will draw inspiration from the Stonewall event to stand in our truth, to embrace our human dignity and use who we are and what we have to create safe spaces for the younger generation and to commit to the process of transformation and inclusion of all people in all spheres of life.
We celebrate the courageous acts of resistance demonstrated by individuals of the LGBTQ community in Greenwich village, a neighbourhood of New York City. Their resistance has changed the course of history for all LGBTQ people.