Youth Perspectives on Stonewall
June 30, 2009
Hoping to capture a different perspective on the Stonewall anniversary, I asked our summer communications interns Paul Richards and Samantha Citron for their thoughts on what the event means to them:
Paul Richards: I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t know what happened at Stonewall until last year when it finally occurred to me to do some Googling. I’m not sure if this is a product of the generational divide in the LGBT community that everyone seems to be talking about lately or the simple fact that I’m a 21-year-old who’s only been out of the closet for two years. My first exposure came in a queer politics-themed English class I took last year. On the first day of class our professor passed around a clipping from the New York Daily News, dated July 6, 1969. “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad,” read the bold headline. The portrayal of the gay bar goers that followed was laced with homophobic and derogatory language, and I was shocked that a newspaper would ever print this story as objective “news.” This article motivated me to learn a little bit more about my history, although I can’t even come close to claiming expertise or complete understanding. So what does Stonewall mean to me? Unclear. It would be disingenuous of me to say that thinking about Stonewall ever really motivated me to act in a certain way or to be more open about my sexuality. I’ve done all of those things on my own, really, or with the help and support of friends. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t had to struggle for acceptance at home, with my friends, or at school, and I’ve never been the victim of real homophobia, although I recognize that’s a rare experience. I guess that’s what Stonewall and the 40 years that followed have done for me – made it possible for me to do these things on my own. Because of people who have struggled and protested and picketed, I can put LGBT organizations on my resume and still get a job I want, or introduce my boyfriend as my boyfriend and not a “friend,” or go dancing at a gay club – like the Stonewall Inn – and not worry about whether I’ll end up spending the night in jail. Of course I don’t want to sugarcoat the harsh realities many LGBT people still face, and we’ve still got a long way to go on a number of important issues. But I think the gay men and women who took to the streets in the Stonewall Riots would be glad to hear me, a young gay man 40 years later, say that I see a lot of things to be happy about, if not completely satisfied. Here’s to 40 more years of ending complacency and getting what we deserve.
Samantha Citron: As a straight ally, I often feel unable to fully integrate myself into the LGBT community. I care as passionately about the issues and fight as fiercely as many of my gay friends and family – but as strongly as I feel, the simple fact is I don’t have to face the discrimination, I don’t have to fight for my right to get married, and I’ll never have to worry about being hated for who I love. In the past, I’ve attended every Pride Parade within a feasible distance, scolded anyone that negatively used the term “gay” and argued marriage equality with those that would listen. It never felt like enough; I, like thousands of people, wanted results. I wanted to take part in the movement that was born out of a bar in Greenwich Village forty years ago. A cause that since June 1969 has come so far, but as the Rainbow Lounge has reminded us as recently as this past weekend, still has a long ways to go. The riots at the Stonewall Inn seem distant; a byproduct of the lapsed time, however what the riots ignited and what has happened since then mean to me that every tear shed, every mile marched and every bill that hits Congress will eventually lead to the end of a fight. The Stonewall Riots mean to me that the beauty of watching my gay brother fall in love will lead to a wedding ceremony every bit as valid as that of any straight couple. The Stonewall Riots mean to me that Matthew Shepard’s death will forever stand as a message of unnecessary loss, but one that had the means to ignite a fresh battle. The Stonewall Riots mean to me that these injustices are no longer taken sitting down, but are met with a fury. The Stonewall Riots were long before my time, but the fight that erupted that night is still fresh today.