by Chaylee N. Brock
I am bisexual and genderqueer, but to keep it simple, I use the all-encompassing word “queer” to identify myself.
Getting to the point where I could “come out” and be myself was a long and rocky road. I was raised in a family that viewed any kind of homosexuality as a sin, and this messaging caused a lot of inner turmoil and even self-hatred while growing up, because I was just twelve years-old when I began to realize I was attracted to both girls and boys equally.
I’m far from being the only person who has struggled to find and feel safe within my identity — and that’s exactly what it is. Being queer is a part of my identity. It’s who I am. It’s no different than how a Christian or Catholic or Jew claims their faith as a part of their identity, how a black person claims their blackness as a part of their identity, or how a Texan claims their Texas roots as a part of their identity.
I’m queer. That’s a part of who I am.
Too often, people want to make homosexuality about what happens in a person’s bedroom, but that’s only a small part of what it means to be queer — just how sex is only a small part of a heterosexual relationship. Being queer remains a part of my identity, even when I’m not in a relationship.
The only reason I’m allowed to share so openly about my sexuality and gender identity is because of the many generations before me who fought, and sometimes even gave their lives, to give the LGBTQ+ community basic, human rights. While we still don’t enjoy all the rights the heterosexual community is granted, we’ve made significant progress in the last few decades, and it really is amazing that I’m able to share my true identity in a public space.
Just twenty, thirty years ago, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for a queer person displaying their identity publicly to be beaten or even killed.
If we go back even further, it wasn’t unusual for queer people to be imprisoned or sentenced to death.
In addition to rounding up Jews in the Holocaust, the Nazis also imprisoned and murdered homosexuals.
The fight for equal rights has been a struggle for the queer community for centuries, and it’s important for us to remember those that came before us. That includes those who were involved in the Stonewall Riots in 1969, which is often seen as a major turning point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, as well as the origin of what we now know as Pride Month, still celebrated every June.
The Stonewall Inn was a bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village that was operated by the mob as a gay bar and was one of the very few places in America queer people could meet one another. LGBTQ+ people who visited the Stonewall have explained how the bar in Greenwich Village had become the one safe place in New York City where they could openly be themselves, talk and dance with other queer people, and even find love.
In 1969, being queer was illegal, and we had no rights. The police raided the Stonewall and other gay bars in New York fairly often, but people continued to go back and risked being arrested, because they had nowhere else to go, no other place they could relax and let their guard down.
The justification given in the 60’s for raids on gay bars was that the New York State Liquor Authority had made it illegal for any establishment to sell alcohol to anyone even assumed to be queer. Entire bars could be permanently shut down for doing so, because the Liquor Authority labeled any congregation of queer people “disorderly.”
Thankfully, these laws were overturned in 1966, but it didn’t put an end to the raids or the discrimination queer people often experienced at the hands of the police. Following the end of the Liquor Authority law, police began justifying gay bar raids with laws that still made it illegal to participate in homosexual activity — including activities as simple as holding hands or dancing with someone of the same sex.
However, the raid police initiated at the Stonewall on June 28th, 1969 was anything but the kind of routine raid to which everyone had become accustomed.
When police first entered the bar on June 28th, they arrested 13 people, including people who they accused of cross-dressing (also illegal at the time). They forced all of the Stonewall’s patrons outside, but instead of dispersing, as the police expected, they lingered outside the bar, and the overall tone quickly turned angry.
The queer people standing outside of the Stonewall that night had finally had enough of the harassment they faced regularly by the police department, and they let it be known.
A lesbian who was being arrested had her head hit on a police van, possibly on purpose, and that’s when the anger erupted into violence. Suddenly, the police were hailed with objects, as the bar’s patrons began to throw anything they could get their hands on at the police. The group managed to chase the police and some members of the press back into the Stonewall, which they then tried (but failed) to set on fire.
The events on June 28th turned into a full-on riot, but even though the crowd dispersed later that night, people returned, and the riots outside of the Stonewall lasted five whole days.
Despite how shocking the protests and riots at Stonewall were, they did not bring an end to LGBTQ+ discrimination, but it was a starting point. Stonewall is still seen as the moment in time the LGBTQ+ community finally decided they had had enough and started to fight back, both against the police and against the injustices they had always experienced in America.
According to History.com, many gay rights groups were created following the riots, “including the Gay Liberation Front, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD (formerly Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), and PFLAG (formerly Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).”
The Stonewall riots also helped create the very first Pride parade, which took place on the one-year anniversary of the riots in New York City, with queer people taking to the streets to march and demand equal rights.
Pride parades remain a yearly event now, with marchers still demanding gay rights but also celebrating the progress we’ve made so far. It’s because of the riots at the Stonewall that we still protest for equal rights, as well as celebrate the rights we’ve been granted so far, in the month of June, around the anniversary of the five days of riots. Pride celebrations, just like the Stonewall establishment, have become places queer people can be their true selves, without facing the backlash that, sadly, still occurs in American society.
Coincidentally, June has also become a month in which the LGBTQ+ community has gained some major victories in the fight for equal rights.
On June 26th, 2015, the United States Supreme Court handed down the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made marriage equality the law of the land, all across America.
Here is how Human Rights Watch described this ruling and its significance:
In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the court considered whether the US Constitution requires US states to license two people of the same sex to marry. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5 to 4 majority, said that marriage is a fundamental right that all couples are entitled to under the Fourteenth Amendment of the constitution, which provides for equal protection to all citizens under the law. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family […] They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The [US] Constitution grants them that right.” Justice Kennedy said.
We saw another historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 15, 2020, which provides discrimination protection for LGBTQ+ in the workplace, with Justices on the Court saying that LGBTQ+ people are protected in the workplace under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Up until this ruling was made by the Court, it was considered legal in 27 states for an employer to fire an employee just for being queer.
One of the most surprising votes on the Supreme Court came from Trump appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the following in the Court’s ruling:
An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids… An employer who fires a woman, Hannah, because she is insufficiently feminine and also fires a man, Bob, for being insufficiently masculine may treat men and women as groups more or less equally. But in both cases the employer fires an individual in part because of sex.
While it can not be overstated just how incredible these recent victories are, the LGBTQ+ community still faces discrimination in America 2020 in many different ways.
For example, just days before the ruling on employment discrimination, the Trump administration took a policy position that, according to NPR, “would remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people when it comes to health care and health insurance.” It seems that transgender Americans are the main target in this particular policy.
LGBTQ+ Americans also continue to face discrimination when it comes to housing. The Human Rights Campaign explains the problem by saying “LGBTQ people are at risk of being denied, charged higher rates for, or removed from housing. Currently, there is no federal law that consistently protects LGBTQ individuals from housing discrimination.” HRC also reports that only 21 states and the District of Columbia offer housing protections for LGBTQ+ Americans.
Religious discrimination is also a problem that continues to haunt queer Americans. Indiana became infamous under then-Governor Mike Pence’s implementation the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which allowed for businesses in the state to discriminate against potential consumers, based on religious objections to the person’s queer identity. It caused Indiana to lose out on millions in revenue when dozens of corporations pulled out of the state, refused to expand in the state, and ended existing contracts they had with the state.
After facing such significant backlash, the bill was weakened through further legislation, however, discrimination against LGBTQ+ Hoosiers continues to this day.
There are many more examples of discrimination still faced by the queer community, but these three examples alone show that LGBTQ+ Americans are still not granted the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual and cis-gendered Americans.
That’s why, all these years after Stonewall, it is still important for all of us to remain mindful of, and committed to fighting, the injustices that continue to linger all across the country. It’s important for us to speak out and inform others of the battles we still face, and Pride Month, celebrated every June, is a great opportunity for us to have those conversations.
Pride Month also gives us the opportunity to celebrate those who came before us, as well as celebrate the victories that were won before our generation joined the fight. We also have to remember how far we’ve come, and I believe that by celebrating and remembering our history, we can take strength from knowing how our predecessors prevailed and move optimistically into the battles that will be fought by our generation and generations to come.
We have to know our history as a part of the LGBTQ+ community in order to pave the path to a more just and equitable future for all Americans, regardless of sexuality and gender identity.