Stonewall as the Past and Present Symbol of Gay Rights in America

By Gamal Hennessy

The modern era of gay rights in America can be traced back to a small bar in New York’s West Village. When a group of transvestites refused to go into the bathroom to have their genitals inspected to determine their gender, it marked a turning point in the relationship between homosexuals and heterosexuals in the US. To a large extent it also changed the perception of homosexuals about themselves. The annual Pride Parade, positive gay figures in the media, debates on gay marriage and open sexual orientation in military service are all a by-products of the first Stonewall Incident.

While progress has been made, recent news suggests that the clock is turning back to older homophonic attitudes. Tyler Clementi commits suicide after his roommate secretly films his sexual encounter and broadcasts it on the internet. In a modern version of the Salem Witch Hunts, tabloids print “shocking” headlines that public figures ranging from Prince Charles to Martha Stewart are gay, might be gay or may have had gay experiences. A tourist to New York is attacked by fanatics inside the same bathroom where the first Stonewall Incident started. All of this has happened in the last 10 days. Like the Civil Rights Movement and women’s rights, legal progress clearly does not mean that the underlying social problem has been solved.

Nightlife has a social impact that goes beyond bottle service and sex. It is an environment that pushes the envelope of American culture as a whole. Historically, it is the space where minorities and homosexuals felt accepted when they weren’t accepted anywhere else. It is where modern music and fashion trends are tested before they slip into the mainstream. It is where social protests and movements from anti-Prohibition crime to the start of the gay rights movement found their home. If more progress is going to be made, it may very well continue where it started. Even if common society’s apathy, red state mentality or tabloid media slurs continue to promote division and hate, nightlife can and should be a haven for those who need a place to get away from the negative elements of society. Natives need to protect each other.

There is some good news when you compare the first Stonewall Incident to the second one. During the first Stonewall Incident it was the patrons vs. the cops in riots that lasted several days. It was nightlife fighting against authority. During the second Stonewall Incident the patrons chased down the fanatics and handed them over to the police, who were arrested on a hate crimes charges. It was nightlife working with authorities. If we can continue that trend, then nightlife can be a model for the rest of America.

Have fun.