Too The Streets… We March…

“In the early hours of June 28, 1969, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City.” a quote from the article Stonewall Riots on History.com. This year marks the 50th anniversary of those very riots and Pride in the CLE will be honoring the event with a return to the march. Sure, many will just see it as a Pride Parade and not understand the difference, but it is that difference that makes it important, especially now. You may know the story or just parts, but this is the year to revisit our roots and understand where it all started and why the fight is not over. And why our “gay bars” were and still are important cornerstones of the community.

The Stonewall Riot was a culmination of events that erupted in the early morning hours of June 28th. Since the Great Depression, bars in America had become less and less welcoming to the LGBT populations. Laws were put in place in many states that made it illegal for bars to serve LGBT people. The laws included means of being able to identify who were the subversive element, they included that you must wear at least three pieces of clothing to the gender you appeared to be, could not over fraternize with other same sex patrons, and in many cases dance together. In the Christopher Street part to New York City, the bars had been raided for almost a decade. Anyone that looked as if they were a homosexual were dragged out of the bar, beaten, thrown in the back of police wagons, and hauled to jail. There were bars that had popped up to allow LGBT people to visit and be able to drink, they were never the cleanest bars, and many did not have working bathrooms or running water. They were simply dark places that allowed for the congregation of our community without intercedence of local authorities. 

Stonewall was ran by the Genovese crime family in New York and had paid informants in the sixth precinct to all them to know ahead of time if there were raids coming for the bar. This allowed the owners to hide the alcohol being served, ensure that the men were not dancing together, and stop any other illegal activities. On the morning of June 28th, the tip off did not happen and the local precinct showed up with a warrant in hand and in full force, to raid the bar. The police entered, beat many of the patrons, arrested 13 people, including staff, and any that did not comply to the three-garment dress code. If they suspected someone of being a “crossdresser,” they would take them into the restroom and perform a physical check of their gender. One lesbian patron was hit over the head with a beer bottle by an arresting officer, at which point she tried to incite the crowd into action, asking if they were going to stand and allow this to happen. At which point, in a massive wave, the crowd erupted and started throwing objects at the police, yelling at them, and beginning to circle the arresting officers. Within minutes, it was a full-blown riot. The protests escalated and lasted for almost six days in total. The first ever targeted and focused  push for equal treatment of LGBT people and became the single galvanizing moment that pushed gay rights into the modern era.

Both sides of our country had similar marches, annually, afterwards. Harvey Milk set up a Pride Parade in the Castro district of San Francisco and the Christopher Street March was held in honor of the events that happened. These marches put some of our biggest activist like Marsha P. Johnson and Cleve Jones in the spotlight and they were also the catalyst for our achievements going forward. Putting us front and center in the eyes of the media with banners like “We’re here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It.” As the movement progressed and victories were won, our marches slowly became the Pride Parades that now blanket our country. Starting on June 1, as the beginning of Pride Season, and ending in September. During these times, our bars where the places of organization of these events, a place for us to feel safe from the persecution we endure constantly, and our safe zones after we won them back from constant police intervention. They were, in fact, our homes and our family.

 

In the fifty years since Stonewall we have seen a lot of advancement in LGBTQ rights and equality. We have seen larger focus on healthcare targeted towards us, inclusion of our spouses in our company provided healthcare, and numerous reforms of laws that prevent us from being fired or losing our homes for just being who we are. That being said, the last four years has shown a lot of ground slipping. This administration has now  made it legal for the military to openly discriminate against trans people. We are seeing legislature change for the safety of our jobs and healthcare, that would allow companies to persecute against us based on perceived religious freedoms. Hate crimes are rising to levels that we haven’t seen in several decades. And most recently, same sex couples are being targeted more for trying to adopt babies outside of the country, the government is stating they cannot bring a child in unless going through more hoops of proof of marriage than our heterosexual counterparts.

We have been told by organizations that claim to have our best interests in mind that we needed to  fight for marriage rights, instead of women’s rights, minority rights,  prison reform, healthcare reform and numerous others. We were convinced that marriage should be first, and the rest would fall in line. This administration shows they have no regards for that fight or even the law that repealed DOMA and allowed us to legally marry. What did we gain from it but the ability to wave around a piece of paper that says we are legally married to our partner? The benefits that should come with that paper seem to have been misplaced in the information given to us when we got our licenses. We are slowly starting to realize that our fight never ended, we were only shifted off the mark. We are also learning that it is “WE” who must fight for our rights, again. It is great to have supporters and advocates, but at the end of the day we are the ones still losing in this battle. We are again burying our brothers and sisters for the murders spurred from hate crimes.

This year, Pride in the CLE will be hosting a march, this is the time for each and every one of us to come out of the closet, yet again, and take to the streets. Be visible and show that we are still here and fighting for our very futures. We will not be forgotten, and we will not be torn asunder. This is the time to make your banners and hoist them up alongside our community, whether you are marching or standing on the route in solidarity. It cannot be expressed enough that your voice does matter and needs to be heard. If you choose to march, visit the links above and register. Let us make an example so that we do not lose more of the rights we have fought for. June 1st join us to stand together to honor the memories of those visionary activist and not let their fights be in vain.

Dorothy Jean

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Eight years ago, this February 10, my mother passed away. It was a monumental milestone in my life because she was probably the one person who really knew me. The person that I never really had to tell them how I felt, she just knew. No matter where I was, if either of us needed to talk we instantly knew and would pick up the phone. She was an amazing person that shaped my life in many ways and some I didn’t fully understand until later in my life. I try to honor her daily and celebrate the good times of her life.

I guess, for me, the reason we are so close is the amount of time my mother spent beside my bed for various events in my life. That started at my birth when I was born blue due to oxygen deprivation, after which I spent the first few weeks of my life in an incubator due to other complications. Mom told me that it was rough the first few weeks and the doctors were watching my condition closely. From childhood, it was diagnosed that I was allergic to almost everything in the environment; dust, mold, pet dander, pollen, and bees, being the largest of those. Beestings were and are the worst for me, it turned out I had a very severe allergy to bees. There were three events of me being stung that I almost died, and Mom was there, in my ear, telling me to get myself together and stay with her. Once, my blood pressure and heart rate were so low that I remember the doctors telling her they would be shocked if I made it. Being the mother, she was, she simply whispered words of encouragement to me, reminding me that I was stronger than this.

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There were times when I was a child that I had some very dark thoughts. I had written her letters telling her how much of a freak I thought I was, that I should run away, or that I didn’t deserve to be alive. Parents today would freak out, my mother remained strong and simply talked to me about my issues. She listened to what I had to say, crying along with me. Her words of strength filled me with such light that I felt I could endure anything. She stood by me when I needed an ally and she kicked my ass when I needed motivation. She sat with me through school when I could not understand what I was being taught and showed me new ways of looking at problems and understanding, recounting stories of her adversity to show me that strength is more than physical prowess, it is the ability to adapt and overcome.

She gave me room to grow to become my own person and encouraged me to pursue my dreams. She took me to college and was there to help me when I came home. She never gave up on me, no matter how much I thought my world had ended. I had done the best I could, as a child, to hide that I was different. To now show that I was gay. At times I dated women, even if they were the wrong choice, to make my mother feel that I was the son I thought she wanted. In the summer of 1995, I knew I couldn’t hide myself any longer. My mother and I worked in the same mall and I would often go and have lunch with her. On one summer day in July, I decided I would finally tell her the truth. For the last year I had been going to the only LGBTQ in a two-hour distance and thought it was time to finally be free. While we were eating lunch, I told her that we needed to talk, not taking my eyes off the sandwich I was eating. She was working on the schedule for her job and only replied “Ok.”  And I started it like so many cliched movies by saying “You know how people are different, they do different things, try different things, and love different people?” She only replied “mmmhmm.” My nerves quickly kicked into overload and thought I was going to swallow my heart in telling her something that would destroy her. I fumbled back and forth over trying to explain it in a way that would make it seem the most natural thing in the world. My mother put down her pen and looked over the rim of her glasses and stated quite simply and elegantly, “I love you no matter what and I have known you were gay since you were a kid. Nothing has changed.” I choked on my own breath thinking how she could have known, I hid it so well. This can’t be. I waited for an explosion of anger that never came.

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It was seven months later that I told her about the man I met and how he made me felt. How I had never known love like I feel with him. She never judged nor sneered, she never said anything derogatory or hurtful. The only words she said was “As long as he treats you well and I meet him for my approval, it is fine.” Even when I went on further to explain to her that he was HIV+, her only concern was about us being safe. Looking back, I know that it must have terrified her to know that I was in love with someone that was HIV+, this was the mid 90s and HIV was still pretty much a death sentence. The stigma of being gay in our small town was bad and add that with HIV and you were almost a guaranteed outcast or worse. Two weeks later, I introduced her to Shawn and she instantly fell in love with him and became like a son to her.

When Shawn passed on February 28, 2003, she was the first person I called. She stayed on the phone with through all of my hysterical, sobbing fits, comforting me and calming me into some form of sanity. She and my sister sat beside me at his funeral while his family made a mockery of his life, never once even acknowledging that I was a part of it. Eight years we spent together, and they claimed he hated being gay, that he felt he had been led astray. All of which was not true, Shawn loved being a gay man and had an immense pride in the LGBTQ community. My mother sat beside me recalling seeing him do drag and how he often called her for strength. As they tore him down, she built him back up for me.

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It was five years later that my mother’s health started to decline. I moved back home to be near her, but I in no way had the strength she had shown me. It was hard going to the doctor visits with her and hearing how they could not explain the things she was going through. It weighed on me every time she went back into the hospital for more unexplained internal bleeding. I watched her very being change as I sat beside her and I constantly wondered how I was not as strong as she was with me during similar times. My fear often turned to anger because I knew the time was coming in which I would be without her and I was afraid of how I would deal with it. The person who had been my rock through my life needed me and I could only worry about not having her with me anymore. Why did I not have the strength that she so often showed me, why was I so weak. And when she passed February 10, 2011, I was angry at myself for not being more present with her. She was not gone from my life and I was left with the regrets of not being a rock for her.

It has taken me eight years to learn that she still teaches me things every day. The lesson I still struggle to learn is she probably had the same fears that I was going through as her health decline. The difference is that she showed the strength to not let them control her and she became the strength that I and others did not have. That is what made her a mother and it is the same strength that I hope to still have. While you may be gone from my life, Mom, you will never leave my heart. Thank you for building me up and providing the foundation to be a strong person. I Love You!cropped-img_0117