Since I started this blog in March of 2017, each June 12th I have published a post in observance of the anniversary of the PULSE Nightclub massacre in Orlando. The first post was about the massacre itself and its impact on Orlando. The second post was in tribute to an influential writer who was also a victim of hate, Anne Frank. This year, I have decided to write about Pride Month (which is being observed this month in the United States) and why standing up with and for people in the LGBT+ community is important to me.
(I have decided to use the acronym LGBT+ so as to be inclusive of all different orientations and gender identities without making an overly clunky acronym. So in addition to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, the plus sign includes those who are gender fluid or non-binary, pansexual, asexual, queer, intersex, and just about any alternative identity under the sun.)
This month is especially important in the history of LGBT rights in the United States because it marks the 50th anniversary of one of the first and most important events in sparking the modern LGBT rights movement: The Stonewall Riots. In the years leading up to Stonewall, the American legal system was quite fervently anti-gay, and while the exact laws discriminating against LGBT people were quite numerous and there are way too many to list here, some of the more common ones included laws against sodomy (all of the states but one, Illinois, had anti-sodomy laws on the books at the time of the Stonewall Riots), “sex psychopath” laws that allowed police to detain a person suspected of being homosexual, and in seven states castration of gay men was legal. The 1960s was one of general social upheaval (the civil rights movement, the counterculture/hippie movement, the sexual revolution, and the anti-Vietnam War movement), and the movements that constituted this upheaval helped contribute to the catalyst of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn was a Mafia-owned bar in Greenwich Village, New York that was one of the few establishments during this time that openly welcomed gay patrons (at this time, “gay” referred to the whole of the LGBT community), and its patrons included gay men, lesbians, drag queens (and drag kings), transgender people, and homeless youth. Bars were often one of the few social establishments where LGBT people could socialize publicly, but even then these bars were often suspect to police raids, which is what happened at the Stonewall Inn in late June 1969. In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, plainclothes officers announced to the bar that the Stonewall Inn was being raided. According to the Wikipedia article on the Riots,
The raid did not go as planned. Standard procedure was to line up the patrons, check their identification, and have female police officers take customers dressed as women to the bathroom to verify their sex, upon which any men dressed as women would be arrested. Those dressed as women that night refused to go with the officers. Men in line began to refuse to produce their identification. The police decided to take everyone present to the police station, after separating those cross-dressing in a room in the back of the bar. Maria Ritter, then known as male to her family, recalled, “My biggest fear was that I would get arrested. My second biggest fear was that my picture would be in a newspaper or on a television report in my mother’s dress!” Both patrons and police recalled that a sense of discomfort spread very quickly, spurred by police who began to assault some of the lesbians by “feeling some of them up inappropriately” while frisking them.
As the raid continued, those who weren’t arrested walked out the front door, but they didn’t leave the premises; around 150 were eventually gathered outside. Some of the people leaving began posing and dancing, which got huge applause from the crowd.
The article continues:
When the first patrol wagon arrived, Inspector Pine recalled that the crowd—most of whom were homosexual—had grown to at least ten times the number of people who were arrested, and they all became very quiet. Confusion over radio communication delayed the arrival of a second wagon. The police began escorting Mafia members into the first wagon, to the cheers of the bystanders. Next, regular employees were loaded into the wagon. A bystander shouted, “Gay power!”, someone began singing “We Shall Overcome“, and the crowd reacted with amusement and general good humor mixed with “growing and intensive hostility”. An officer shoved a transvestite, who responded by hitting him on the head with her purse as the crowd began to boo. Author Edmund White, who had been passing by, recalled, “Everyone’s restless, angry, and high-spirited. No one has a slogan, no one even has an attitude, but something’s brewing.” Pennies, then beer bottles, were thrown at the wagon as a rumor spread through the crowd that patrons still inside the bar were being beaten.
But upon the sight of a woman being forcibly removed from the bar in handcuffs and then being beaten over the head for complaining her handcuffs were too tight, was when the gathering began to turn violent. The crowd attempted to overturn a police wagon, started throwing beer cans, and the police soon lost control of the crowd, which at this point now consisted of 500-600 people. Accounts of the riots state that there was no preplanned demonstration involved, and the riots broke out spontaneously in response to the events happening around the crowd. The crowd started throwing all sorts of projectiles at the building and police officers ended up trapped inside the bar; they were eventually freed when the riot squad was called in. Rioting continued until well into the early morning hours before the crowd dispersed for the night. Despite suffering fire damage from the riot, the Stonewall Inn opened the following night, which was accompanied by a second night of rioting, which once again went into the early morning hours. All told, the riots lasted just two nights, but the impact it would have on the LGBT rights movement has lasted for the ensuing 50 years. Within a couple of years of the Stonewall Riots, activist groups sprung up all over the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe to publicly begin the fight for LGBT rights.
This YouTube video goes into the Stonewall Riots and other related topics into much more detail, if you’re interested in learning more.
In those fifty years, the LGBT+ community in the United States has seen a lot of progress: In 1974, homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a mental disorder. In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional, effectively ridding homosexuality of its criminal status in the United States. In the early 1990s, the Department of Defense opened up military enlistment to LGBT individuals, but under the caveat of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, which essentially forced these people to remain closeted during their military service, even though they couldn’t be discriminated against by their superiors because of their sexual orientation. Thankfully, this policy was repealed in 2011, although there have been some setbacks in recent years. Several states have put in place anti-discrimination laws for LGBT+ citizens, and there are also such laws in place for federal employees, but nationwide protection has not come yet, though there is at least one proposed bill that would do so (however, given that our current president is a Republican, whose party traditionally opposes the expansion of LGBT+ rights, I don’t see it being signed into law any time soon). In 2016, Mississippi became the last state to remove a ban on adoptions by same-sex couples, which means that adoption by same-sex couples is now legal in all 50 states. But the biggest legal victory for the LGBT+ community came one year earlier in 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples were guaranteed the fundamental right to marry by both the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Some more conservative states have attempted to challenge the ruling in recent years, but this ruling essentially legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states and most of the United States’ territories.
There have been some setbacks as well, though. Not all states guarantee the same amount of protections to either sexual orientation or gender identity when it comes to discrimination or hate crimes. Earlier this year, the Trump administration barred transgender people from serving in the military (which had previously been allowed under the Obama administration), although Congress has been attempting to push back against the ban. Several states and municipalities have either passed or attempted to pass so-called “bathroom bills”, which would essentially force transgender women to use the men’s public bathrooms and vice versa for transgender men. Tragedies like the murders of Matthew Shepard and Brandon Teena (a transgender man whose life story and murder was told in the Academy Award winning film Boys Don’t Cry) have made us take a closer look at our hate crimes laws, and in 2009 the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law, which added crimes motivated by actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability as federally prosecutable hate crimes, expanding on a law originally passed in 1969. (Byrd was an African-American man from Texas who was lynched by dragging by three white supremacists in 1998, the same year of Shepard’s murder in Wyoming. Two of Byrd’s killers have been executed for their role in Byrd’s murder, while the third is serving a life sentence.)
The LGBT+ community in the United States has come a long way, but there are still many battles to wage on the way to achieving equality with our straight and cisgender citizens in the eyes of society and the law. This is why Pride Month is such a big deal. It is not only a way for LGBT+ people to show pride in living freely, openly, and honestly, but it is also a way to raise awareness for the continuing the fight for LGBT+ rights and for those who can’t live freely, openly, and honestly either because of religious or family pressure or because they live in a country or society where homosexuality is illegal.
What Pride Means to Me
I am what is called a “straight ally”, someone who does not identify as LGBT+ themselves, but is a supporter and friend of the LGBT+ community and supports LGBT+ rights. This is not a new label to me, in fact I have been a straight ally for most of my life, since I was around 15 or 16 years old.
I don’t think I met any openly LGBT+ people until I was in high school (although I did have a huge crush on a boy in middle school who later turned out to be gay; I had suspicions that he was by the time we were in high school, but I didn’t find out for sure until I found his Facebook page, and by that time I thought, “I’m not surprised at all, and good for him!”). And as I got to know them, I found they weren’t that much different than I was. I’ve had quite a few friends in the LGBT+ community over the years, including some really close friends. In my close-knit little group of Facebook friends (which only numbers about 25, all of whom are people I’ve known since childhood through high school and college), four of them are openly LGBT+, and several others are proud straight allies like me.
Even as a knitter, as I’ve made headway into the online knitting community, I’ve had the opportunity to meet all sorts of people online who are of all different sexualities and gender identities. We all bond over a shared love of creating and crafting. We exchange crafting tips and life advice and we’ve been able to foster these friendships, even though many of us have never met in person. A substantial portion of the knitting and crochet community is LGBT+ (especially those who identify as male), but I’ve always felt the knitting and crochet community is for everybody, no matter who you love or how you identify. We yarnies should be loving, encouraging, and supportive of each other, right?
Anyways, because of the positive impact that people in the LGBT+ community have had on me personally, I’ve seen myself as a friend and ally to that community, and the issue of LGBT+ rights has always been one that I have been very passionate about. I look up to fellow outspoken straight allies like Judith Light (who costarred on Who’s the Boss?, and has been a longtime LGBT+ rights activist and advocate for people with HIV/AIDS since the 1980s), Cyndi Lauper, rapper Macklemore (who even did a track in collaboration with then music partner Ryan Lewis called “Same Love” which documents his feelings about his support for the LGBT+ community), and of course…my favorite “Golden Girl” herself, the late, great Bea Arthur, who in her will bequeathed $300,000 to the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides shelter and services to homeless LGBT+ youth in the city. In 2015, six years after her death, the center broke ground on a new homeless shelter for LGBT+ youth named in her honor, the Bea Arthur Residence, since her bequest helped the center to stay open during the Great Recession that was going on at the time of Arthur’s death. The shelter opened in 2017. She was once quoted as saying, “I would do anything in my power to help children who are discarded by their parents for being LGBT.”
Pride is not just being proud of who you are and who you love, it is also about standing up for and standing with those who have been marginalized and discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender identity; standing up in the face of hatred and bigotry and saying “No more”; and being bold enough to declare the belief that the LGBT+ community should be recognized in ways that straight and cisgender people take for granted. It is a stance that first came into the public eye with the Stonewall Riots and is still making waves today, as we come upon Stonewall’s 50th anniversary.
And also, for the 49 lives stolen on this date at the PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Those 49 included members of the LGBT+ community, but among the dead were also friends, family members, and allies who supported their loved ones in the LGBT+ community. Let them not be forgotten, let their deaths not be in vain.
I end this post with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ groundbreaking anthem, “Same Love”, a song that I think captures perfectly the mindset of a straight ally and why he supports the LGBT+ community, featuring Mary Lambert in the chorus. There is some slightly coarse language, but the song is worth listening to.
As Macklemore says in the song, “No freedom until we’re equal…damn right I support it.” To my friends and readers in the LGBT+ community, I love you, I appreciate you, and I thank you.
(I have an idea for a new knitting project/pattern now, but I think it may have to wait until next June to share. It’s only in the concept stages right now, but perhaps I can make it a reality in the next few months.)