I'm not 43 years old. I'm not old enough to remember the Stonewall riots that occurred in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969 in a gay bar in New York. My mother isn't even old enough to have been a participant in the Stonewall riots. I've never even been to New York City, much less seen the infamous Stonewall Inn. Even so, I feel a strong connection to the Stonewall, 43 years later, through my indebtedness to the participants in a violent eruption through the hands of people who risked their safety and much more all for the sake of fairness.
My mother was in a gay relationship for most of my childhood and teenage years, which means that I was not growing up thinking that being gay is a sin, or being different made you an "abomination" like most people that grew up in the bible belt as I did was taught. I remember distinctly my first encounter with a drag queen in my living room as she practiced her show for the night in her purple wig, glittery dress, pink eyeshadow, and mile-high pumps. I quickly changed my career goal from podiatrist to drag queen. When I learned I was definitively a lesbian myself, I didn't have much of a high speed come apart, and the friends I had chosen in high school already apparently knew before I did. I did experience some bullying because of my relationship, but nothing I couldn't handle by just putting on a smile and turning the other cheek.
I turned 18, and my birthday present was to see my first real drag show in the local gay bar. There's one in every mid-sized town, if not two. I saw drag queens and kings, danced a little bit, and even on crutches I was hit on. I moved to a larger city, and the first thing I did was get my hands on a Gay Yellow Pages. It included gay lawyers, gay pet sitters, gay realtors, gay places of worship, gay owned and gay friendly restaurants, and the local gay bars. Going to the gay bar in the city, I didn't talk to anyone. I was doing good to get a water and stand in my one by one foot of space allotted me in order to watch the drag show. No one mingled outside their group. Finding friends came through networking in the places of worship or business here. That landed me to going back to this bar five years later, watching the same drag queens in a group of five in a five by five area, still not conversing with other groups.
That's why Stonewall amazes me and I am thankful.
Without Stonewall (and what followed after), my mother (who was born just a couple of years before Stonewall) wouldn't have been able to raise a child in a lesbian home. They would have taken me as a ward of the state, or forced me to live with my grandparents, or custody fights would have ensued. Instead, she raised me to be accepting of others, tolerant of differences, and a to be a dialectical thinker, which is a far cry from what others were being taught at the same time and have become since.
Without Stonewall, it would have taken me most likely years to come to terms with who I am. It was a blip on my processing, and sometimes I don't even think there was a definitive time I realized I was gay. I just always was, and I was always okay with it, and I think everyone else was, too. In the past, they could have sent me to have electro-shock therapy, kept me in a psychiatric institution, or worse. On the milder end, I would have denied it to myself, gotten married, had children, only to really know inside I was living a lie.
Without Stonewall, our gay bars and gay friendly establishments would still be underground. Of course, they publish some sort of annual to be able to find them all (if the vendors even want to say they're gay-friendly), but who receives them? It's not something I'D be wanting to seen receiving, since they could lock me away for being a bulldagger. Now, we have multiple gay bars in every area, you know where to find them, and even if there is a scuffle between someone who doesn't like gays and the gay group, it doesn't last long (at least in my area).
The one thing I can say I wished we kept in mind and heart with Stonewall is this--Stonewall banded us together to do something. They had the right to be proud of something they accomplished. They were "fags that fought back." Today, we create drama between cliques or even between our own cliques. It's said that the gay community constitutes 10% of the population at large, we're a small subunit, so I can understand some of reason we become so isolated, but it's a little overly partitioned. We hold on to animosity between people we've dated or our friends have dated, our friends of friends' friends, who've dated so-and-so, who did this to their ex's friend--you know the one... It's stupid. We go to bars and stand there. We go to events for "Pride" and avoid people. The reason Stonewall ignited a heated battle was for the cooperation of a large group of people with a common purpose, not because this clique did most of the work and everyone else just sat there.
As we celebrate 43 years of history since the flame was lit, let's be less like Stone Walls to each other. We can only be functional if we all cooperate to a certain degree. With so much work left to be done, we can't afford to be struggling against one another in such a confined area, like I felt going to the bar and not talking to anyone in my one square foot area. We have tasks yet to be conquered, like partnering rights and adoption/childbearing rights, not to mention a host of other unequal rights when it comes to housing and public services still yet to go. Let's try to be the hammer at the Stone Wall if one goes up. Let's try to tear down the walls between our fellow GLBTQIAs and hold true to the spirit of Stonewall.