This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. On June 27, 1969 police raided the Stonewall Inn, a little bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Police raids of known “homosexual gathering places” were a common occurrence in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and this raid was no different than any of the earlier frequent raids. Government sponsored persecution of homosexuals was a fact of those times and arrests of people just because they were thought to be homosexual was common place.
But there must have been “something in the air” the night of June 27, 1969; maybe it was years of pent up frustration; maybe it was anger at being persecuted for so long. Whatever the cause, The Stonewall Riots are generally recognized as the first time gay people stood together and fought back against the tyranny they had been subjected to for so many years. As the patrons were rousted out of the bar and the arrests were being made, soon a crowd of about 2000 gathered. And then it began…Angry words were shouted at the police and chants of “Gay Power” came from the crowd. Soon words turned to actions as the crowd began throwing things at the police like bottles and trash cans.
That night 13 people were arrested, many were injured, some severely beaten by the police and several police were injured. But that night was just the beginning. The next night and an even larger crowd gathered outside of the Stonewall Inn and the police sent in a riot control squad. Today, the Stonewall Riots are generally thought of as the birth of the modern day Gay Rights movement.
In the years since the Stonewall Riots, the LGBT community has come a tremendous distance in the fight for our equal rights and acceptance. We have fought hard to become accepted by, and even welcomed into, our neighborhoods. We have spent years showing the world that we are no different than anyone else. And the efforts have paid off immensely.
Our lives and relationships are portrayed widely in mass media, from TV to movies to news broadcasts. It is almost commonplace to have gay characters in mainstream TV shows and there are feature films about gay relationships. Many companies, municipalities and cities recognize domestic partners. Some states have even legalized same sex marriage or implemented civil union laws.
This is not to imply that our fight for acceptance is over. There is still much homophobia in the United States and throughout the world; teenage people still commit suicide because they realize they are gay; people are still beaten and even killed just because they are thought to be gay. Yes, there is still hatred and ignorance to be overcome.
However, in our efforts to be accepted and to show the world “that we’re just like everybody else”, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are different than roughly 90% of the people around us. Our Creator made us different, and in doing so gave us gifts and talents that the world is in need of; let us not forget to celebrate the uniqueness of these gifts and talents.
Being gay, we walk between the worlds of typical male or female gender roles. We are more keenly aware of both our masculine and feminine attributes. This awareness allows us to more easily see, and be open to, many aspects of life that others cannot see. Thus, many of us are known as being unifiers; people with the ability to bridge gaps between others and heal relationships of all kinds. Walking between worlds can also make us more receptive to the “unseen” things in life and we become healers and shamans.
We are known to be intensely creative and many of us are involved in the arts. We are musicians, dancers, poets, singers, teachers, painters, song writers, actors, and yes, hair stylists and fashion designers! We are also world class athletes and Nobel Prize scientists. There seems to be an innate need in us to “give back”, to help others and in general make the world a better place for everyone
The following quote is from Marianne Williamson. Even though it is not directly addressed to the gay community, I think it speaks deeply to the gay experience of hiding ourselves and our gifts from the world:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
So, let us acknowledge and celebrate our differences. Every person on this earth is different; there are no two of us that are exactly alike. All people, gay and straight, and no matter what skin color or religious beliefs, have been given talents and gifts unique to them. Let us all shine together.
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