On June 28, 1969, few if anyone recognized that the uprising that took place at a small bar known as the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village would be the impetus of the modern LGBTQ movement. Fifty years later, advocates and activists say society has worked past some prejudices of the era, but most of the same people agree there is still more to be done.
“We’ve certainly come a long way,” Hudson activist Linda Mussmann said last week, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. “Over these 50 years it has become common — the concept of being gay and trans and queer — all the initials have become very much a part of the conversation in America. But there are still some countries that are punishing people for being gay. Churches are making people’s lives miserable because they don’t want to accept people of different sexualities. There are still trans issues, and people of color are probably having the most issues.”
Ron Puhalski, of Athens, was at Stonewall on the night of the riot, arriving as everyone was forced out into the street.
“Everybody was being thrown out of the bar and into the street because the police were holding a raid, which was common at gay and lesbian bars at that time,” Puhalski recalled. “Many of the people at the Stonewall were homeless youth and they were the ones who stepped up and pushed back. They were fighting for their place and their survival, and the only place LGBTQ people had. That was the spark.”
Half a century later, much has changed in the LGBTQ community, but as the Rev. Catherine Schuyler refrained, there is more that has to be done.
“We have made amazing progress in some ways,” Schuyler said. “I was speaking with college friends and it was scary for them to be out 35 years ago. Now, places like colleges are a safe place, but there is more we need to do. There is still bias in the country — sometimes we don’t see it in New York, but there are still places in our community where it is not accepted and still viewed with suspicion to be gay or lesbian, and certainly people who are transgender or who identify as nonbinary — some people still don’t know how to view them as people created in God’s image.”
Stonewall’s legacy is the freedom of the LGBTQ community to be their true selves. It is not conformity to society’s changing norms. In the argot of the 1960s, it’s doing your own thing without fear of reprisal. The question still is: Does the goal set forth by Stonewall mean equality or liberty or some hybrid of both. Can it be both? The nuclear family still exists and places like Hudson rightly proclaim they are cities of inclusion. Gay marriage is here to stay. Yet the gains sown from the seeds of Stonewall are still under siege. Yes, there is more we need to do.