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    Commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Uprisings Today and 50 Years from Now

    By Andrea Shorter–

    1968. Much has been written, film documented, recalled and revisited about the series of epic events of 1968. Among the most obvious and notable are the assassinations of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy; protests against an escalating and failing Vietnam War; President Lyndon Johnson’s signature of the Civil Rights Act of 1968; the violence against war protesters outside of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; the rise of the Black Panthers and black power movements; the rise of the Second Wave of Feminism; and the election of Richard M. Nixon as President of the United States. So much occurred in 1968 that it often feels as if the decade itself ended with that year—overshadowing, shaping, or defining in some way all other political and pop cultural events that followed in the next decade plus.

    For the LGBTQ liberation movement, 1969 is hardly a blur in the aftermath of the world-changing events of 1968. For the LGBTQ liberation movement, the events stemming from the uprisings at the New York City gay bar Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, will forever denote the beginning of the beginning: literal riotous street fighting to counter the aggressive oppressive tyranny against the LGBTQ community that ignited the next major American civil rights movement for freedom, dignity and equality.

    On that day in 1969 there were no known openly LGBTQ elected officials in any U.S. city, county, state or federal office. Being LGBTQ was broadly outlawed, so running for, let alone getting elected to, any office as an openly LGBT person was hardly imaginable. To today’s millennial woke sensibilities it might seem near impossible to imagine that homosexuality, bisexuality, being transgender, gender non-binary expression, and practically any expression or act of queerness was not only against the law, but also was enforced with brute police force. People could lose their jobs, children or lives for any indication, suggestion, accusation or actuality of being gay.

    Even with today’s corporate embrace and celebration of LGBTQ Pride on such massive display starting in June—and now year-round in commercial adverts, sponsored LGBTQ diversity and inclusion conferences, the elections of nearly 700 openly LGBTQ identified people to local, state and U.S. congressional offices, and the eventual law of the land ruling for same sex civil marriage in all fifty states—challenges concerning the oppression of LGBT people still exist and persist today. In the majority of U.S. states, for example, you can be refused hire or be fired for being LGBTQ.

    Electoral engagement is not, nor should be, a singular response or path to further empowerment of the LGBTQ community. Change of hearts and minds most often occurs as a cultural shift. Growing support for the passage and enactment of an Equality Act is as much due to the political empowerment as it is to those necessary cultural shifts concerning LGBTQ inclusion and equality.

    We have a ways to go before full LGBTQ equality and acceptance are intact. The price of freedom is the continued fight and struggle for freedom. In the last 50 years since Stonewall, LGBTQ resistance not only continues to survive the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, but it has also resulted in a pathway for the election of a record number of openly LGBTQ people to every level of government. Well, almost. Continuing to nationally poll as a top five presidential candidate, openly gay Pete Buttigieg is actually more viably in play than anyone might have expected or dared in 1969.

    The Stonewall uprisings and resistance are now part of the annals of American and world history. As President Obama so plainly put it, “from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall,” upon the U.S. Supreme Court ruling for same sex marriage. Perhaps as President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the path will finally be made clear to eventually gain the signature of even this POTUS of the Equality Act in 2019. Fifty years from now, that’s what one can hope Americans will be acknowledging as they commemorate another landmark Stonewall anniversary.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.