LGBT people fought back against police harassment 41 years ago today (June 28) at New York City’s Stonewall Inn, launching the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender liberation movement.
The Stonewall Rebellion (aka Stonewall Riots) became known as the first time that LGBT people rebelled against government persecution of homosexuality. It is commemorated around the world during June as LGBT Pride Month.
The queer people who fought back at Stonewall are not saints in the usual sense. But they are honored here as “saints of Stonewall” because they had the guts to battle an unjust system. They do not represent religious faith -- they stand for faith in ourselves as LGBT people. They performed the miracle of transforming self-hatred into pride. These “saints” began a process in which self-hating individuals were galvanized into a cohesive community. Their saintly courage inspired a justice movement that is still growing stronger after four decades.
Before Stonewall, police regularly raided gay bars, where customers submitted willingly to arrest. The Stonewall Inn catered to the poorest and most marginalized queer people: drag queens, transgenders, hustlers and homeless youth.
Witnesses disagree about who was the first to defy the police raid in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. It was either a drag queen or a butch lesbian. Soon the crowd was pelting the officers with coins, bottles, bricks and the like. The surprised police beat some people with nightsticks before taking refuge in the bar itself. News of the uprising spread quickly. Hundreds gathered on the street and a riot-control police unit arrived. Violence continued as some chanted, “Gay power!”
Drag queens started spontaneous kick lines facing the police with clubs and helmets. That dramatic moment is captured in the painting “It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard. The drag queens taunted police by singing,
We are the Stonewall girlsThat night 13 people were arrested and some hospitalized. The streets were mostly cleared by 4 a.m., but a major confrontation with police happened again the next night, and protests continued on a smaller scale for a week.
We wear our hair in curls
We wear no underwear
We show our pubic hair
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!
A month later the Gay Liberation Front was formed, one of many LGBT rights organizations sparked by the saints of Stonewall. GLBT religious organizations, including JesusInLove.org, are indebted to the saints of Stonewall for our very existence.
I think of the saints of Stonewall as I pray this standard prayer for all saints:
God, May we who aspire to have part in their joy___
be filled with the Spirit that blessed their lives. Amen.
Let us also remember the 32 LGBT people who died in the arson fire of the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans, on June 24, 1973. It was the deadliest gay massacre in US history. They can rightly be called martyrs and join the queer saints honored here. The bar was home to Metropolitan Community Church of New Orleans. Half the victims were MCC members, including the pastor, Rev. William R. Larson.
|Memorial plaque for New Orleans fire|
For more info, visit:
Gay Weddings and 32 Funerals: Remembering the UpStairs Lounge Fire (HuffPost)
Not To Ruin Your Pride, But Today Marks The Deadliest Gay Massacre In US History (Queerty)
The Upstairs Fire 25th anniversary memorial service
(includes names of the victims who died)
F. Douglas Blanchard is a New York artist who teaches art at City University of New York and is active in the Episcopal Church. Much of his art explores history, including gay experience.
New and recommended: To see this history come alive, check out the excellent 2011 video “American Experience: Stonewall Uprising” from PBS.
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.