This month marks 50 years since the police raid on New York City’s Stonewall Inn, a gay bar that was known as a place of refuge for the LGBTQ community. The raid erupted in violence, leading to a six-day-long resistance and ultimately to national visibility for the Gay Liberation Movement as thousands crowded the streets in protest of discrimination and abuse by police.
“No one had ever seen gay people stand up to the police before,” said Dale Mitchell, who was present for two days of the 1969 protests.
There were other things that Mitchell had never witnessed before the riots: men holding hands in public and the words “Gay Power,” which were spray painted on a piece of plywood that covered broken windows of the Stonewall Inn, burned during the resistance.
“I had never seen those two words together in the same sentence before,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell, who is this year’s Boston Pride Parade Grand Marshal, joined Jim Braude and LGBTQ advocates Tiffani Faison, a local chef and restaurateur, and artist Izzy Berdan on Greater Boston Thursday to discuss the impact of the Stonewall riots and the continued fight for LGBTQ acceptance, safety and equality.
In the 50 years since Stonewall, acceptance and support for the rights of the LGBTQ community has grown dramatically in the United States. In 2015, the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, more than 150 LGBTQ candidates were elected into office in the 2018 midterm elections, and thousands of gay rights organizations continue to protect and empower LGBTQ individuals.
Now, the words “Gay Power” can be seen on posters, t-shirts, buttons, and flags — especially during annual pride events.
This month, New York police commissioner James O’Neill publicly apologized for the discrimination leading up to the Stonewall riots.
"The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple," he said. "The actions in the laws were discriminatory and oppressive. And for that I apologize."
Mitchell, Faison and Berdan agreed that the apology was a significant example of how far the gay rights movement has come and appreciated the department’s taking accountability, even half a century later, for the mistreatment of LGBTQ individuals by law enforcement.
“The police literally preyed on gay people,” Mitchell said, ”They had our arrests published in local newspapers, which would totally destroy people and result in suicides.”
Although cultural acceptance has shifted and discriminatory laws, like the ones in New York City, have been repealed, Faison noted that there are still 30 states where equal protections do not exist.
“We can be fired. We cannot receive housing for any reason. I mean, it goes on and on,” she explained.
Faison attributes some of the problems to the current administration.
President Donald Trump made promises during his campaign to “protect our LGBTQ citizens,” but advocates say his words are empty and his policies actively harm LGBTQ individuals.
“Donald Trump is a chameleon for his own interests,” said Faison. “The Trump administration have systematically rolled back protections for LGBTQIA individuals in our country.”
But looking forward, the three LGBTQ advocates are hopeful. When asked what actions they would like to see in the next 10 years, they noted a need for federal laws to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, more funding to protect trans youth, and for a more accepting world overall.
“I think it’s possible,” said Mitchell.
Referencing the additional letters to LGBTQIA, Faison added, “If I have to say the alphabet twice over backwards to make sure that people feel loved and accepted and seen, then I will do that.”