Carrying the torch of Stonewall forward

Posted on 25 Jun 2009 at 1:34pm
By Blake Wilkinson Special Contributor

Stonewall rebellion set the stage for the LGBT movement; now we must follow in those footsteps to win the fight for full equality

The rebellion on June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn and the following week of protests set the stage for the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights movement.

This was not the first time that LGBT people fought back against police harassment in their bars, nor was it the first time that queer people organized themselves politically. But what the dramatic events of that week did for the movement was to break down the closet doors which for so long forced us to accept our second-class citizenship.

Thousands of LGBT people became activists overnight, joining organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance, whose politics were decidedly less compromising than their predecessors’.

Taking this new vitality out into the streets through protest, "zaps" and street theater, the gay liberation movement got united, got creative and made strides. We succeeded in decriminalizing our sexuality and got gay rights ordinances passed in towns and cities across the country, such as Ann Arbor, Mich., and San Francisco. Anita Bryant’s nasty career of bigotry was put to a halt after Harvey Milk and thousands of LGBT activists took to the streets to expose her lies.

Stonewall did for us what all civil rights movements that utilize visible direct action activism did: It gave a voice to a voiceless people.

Over the past half century, we have taken to the streets to protest the injustices committed against our tribe only when seriously compelled to do so. Gay liberation allowed us to come out of the closet to our family and friends. As the AIDS crisis took hold in the late 1980s, and left us with no other recourse, the creative direct action group ACT-UP rallied our community out into the streets to demand attention and to save our lives.

Infiltrating the New York Stock Exchange to protest the profiteering of drug companies making AIDS medicines, shutting down the Food and Drug Administration through protest and staging die-ins across the country, direct action activism saved and greatly extended the lives of millions of people around the world.

Given that our movement’s national lobby groups are nowhere near as powerful as big players such as the AFL-CIO and the NRA, we are left without effective representation. As a disenfranchised people with hardly a voice at all, our best strategy is to share our plight with as many of our neighbors as we can.

Ghandi, creator of the philosophy of civil disobedience, led the people of India to the sea to avoid the British Colonial salt tax. We, in our own way, must stand up for ourselves and expose the injustices inherent within our own society.

In order for LGBT people to win our equal civil rights, we first have to start looking like a civil rights movement. In-the-streets activism since last November’s passing of Proposition 8 is encouraging. Not surprisingly, five of the six states where marriage equality is a reality became so only after our outpouring of activism in the streets. Imagine what could be accomplished if only we took to the streets more often.

The Obama administration has made itself perfectly clear, so far, that it will not be an active advocate on our behalf. We were slapped in the face when the Department of Justice recently defended the federal Defense of Marriage Act, comparing our marriages to pedophilic and incestuous ones.

Since this administration is backing off every single campaign promise made to our community, the time is overdue to once again take our fight for equality out into the streets and give a voice to our voiceless people. As the old adage goes; rights are not given, they are taken!

The 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion gives us all in the LGBT family a chance to celebrate our rich past and consider how to finally secure our complete equal rights. We can either choose to take the backseat approach to securing our equality, or we can be active participants in winning it.

This Sunday, June 28, 2009, LGBT Texans will rally for all to see that we are not going to passively sit by while our elected officials continue to do so little for us. As a movement we will demand the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell" and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. We will fight tooth and nail to pass an all-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and strong hate crimes legislation. We will settle for nothing less than full marriage equality.

The Million Gay March of Texas is an important step in the path to our freedom. We expect to bring out new activists who are eager to get involved in the struggle for our equality.

Being out and organized in our North Texas community, we all have the power create a more just and equitable future.

Join us Sunday and help make our heroes of Stonewall and ACT-UP proud as we continue their fight and finally win our right to full equality in America.

Blake Wilkinson is founder of the direct action group Queer Liberaction.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 26, 2009.

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