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Howie Hawkins: ‘Stonewall At 50, Time To Recommit To Action For Equal Rights’

By Howie Hawkins

Today, June 28, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising that sparked the militant gay liberation movement and was the seed of PRIDE festivals and widespread advocacy for LGBTQIA rights. Today, we commemorate Stonewall and commit to continuing to work for equal rights for all. The Howie Hawkins 2020 campaign stands in solidarity with people seeking equal justice under law and for a society that is accepting and welcoming of the entire spectrum of human gender and sexuality. We oppose prejudice on any front including toward that continuum of sexuality, which our culture is only beginning to understand.

HAWKINS AGENDA FOLLOWS THE LEAD OF THE MOVEMENT

The movement has made some impressive gains, but work for equal rights remains. When the US Supreme Court ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in June 2015 that marriages of same-sex couples will be the same legally as the marriages of opposite-sex couples, the LGBTQIA community made an important step towards full equality and represents an achievement that shows the growing political power of the movement.

True equal rights for all will recognize human rights across the LGBTQIA spectrum. Society should not require assimilation or denial of self in order to have civil rights. Each person should be free to live in whichever way seems right to them.

The Howie Hawkins 2020 campaign stands in solidarity with the LGBTQIA people and follows the lead of that community. What is needed now are federal and state laws that provide protection from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation under the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and equivalent state and federal laws. Too often, members of the LGBTQIA community might celebrate a marriage over the weekend, only to be fired on Monday, as can occur in 20 states that do not provide employment protection.

Basic social and economic benefits should not be tied to marriage, even while LGBTQIA citizens deserve full access to the currently legally enshrined system in this country. However, equivalent protections need to be expanded to people who are partners and have chosen not to formally marry. Legal protections must be provided to undocumented LGBTQIA people, just as they are provided to other immigrants recognized under the law.

The epidemic of violence against transgender people must be confronted, and those who commit violence and murder should be prosecuted and charged with hate crimes. The Human Rights Campaign reports at least 26 deaths of transgender people in the US due to fatal violence in 2018, the majority of whom were Black transgender women. HRC also reports that 2019 has already seen at least ten transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. They report that transgender people are at risk in other ways including unemployment, poverty, homelessness and/or survival sex work as a result of discrimination in our society.

STONEWALL AWAKENED AND TRANSFORMED THE MOVEMENT

The Stonewall raid and arrests of 50 years ago erupted into a riot that became a six-day rebellion that was an awakening moment for gay liberation, an explosion of a movement which had been growing for decades. The next year the first PRIDE march was held on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, named Christopher Street Liberation Day, on June 28, 1970. The first Gay Pride marches were held on the same day in Los Angeles and Chicago. The next year they expanded to Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, and West Germany. PRIDE continues as a global movement to this day.

Stonewall changed how the LGBTQIA movement stood up for its rights. One of the leaders of Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera, a self-described street queen, described the change when she talked about the first night of Stonewall. “You’ve been treating us like shit all these years? Uh-uh. Now it’s our turn!… It was one of the greatest moments in my life.” Stonewall was a moment of self-liberation. Black, self-described, street queen, Marsha P. Johnson, climbed a lamppost and dropped a heavy bag onto the hood of a police car, shattering the windshield. Fighting back against the police helped empower people in the face of authorities who had been abusing them for years.

Rivera and Johnson were among the founding members of the Gay Liberation Front, that was younger, more aggressive and more radical that older LGBTQIA organizations. They allied with groups like the Black Panthers, protested at prisons, and took on a host of civil rights, anti-war, left-wing and anti-capitalist causes seeking to “restructure American society.” The flyer announcing their formation said: “Do You Think Homosexuals Are Revolting? You Bet Your Sweet Ass We Are!” The Gay Liberation Front was the first organization to use “gay” in its name.

It is this example of a radical movement of the Gay Liberation Front, tied to civil rights, Black liberation, opposition to war, student protests and anti-capitalism, that sets the pace for today’s popular movements.

Long-time gay rights activist Frank Kameny, a notable leader with the Mattachine Society, who coined the slogan “Gay is Good” in 1968, described the explosion, “By the time of Stonewall, we had fifty to sixty gay groups in the country. A year later there was at least fifteen hundred. By two years later, to the extent that a count could be made, it was twenty-five hundred.”

The awakening of the LGBTQIA movement became a nationwide and global phenomenon that evolved as issues around equal rights developed. As the AIDS crisis hit, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP!) used radical, direct action, to advocate around the AIDS crisis and changed the debate by ending the silence and inaction on AIDS.

We applaud the history of the LGBTQIA community for successfully standing up for its rights. The Howie Hawkins 2020 campaign is sensitive to the need to continue to work for those rights, and join with the LGBTQIA community in their quest for justice and full equality under the law.

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