National Commentary

50th Anniversary of The Stonewall Riots

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York which is generally recognized as the critical inflexion point in the launching of the “gay liberation revolution” which has led to an extraordinary expansion of public acceptance and legal protections for persons who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, “queer” or questioning (hence, LGBTQ).

As one who was “there” as an activist in the earliest days of the movement, although I was in San Francisco, a long way away, where the impact of the three-day June 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village was not directly felt or deemed particularly significant at first, I’m considerably more than an eyewitness to events then and since.

In this anniversary year, with so many celebrations planned to mark the occasion, I am working on my own contribution to the history in the form of a new book of collected writings from that era, tentatively entitled, “My Gay Activist Days in San Francisco, 1969-1972” (watch this space for further news on publication plans and dates).

Especially over the course of the past decade, I’ve been able to assemble copies of some of the more relevant old writings. A natural-born journalist since early childhood, my “coming out” as a natural-born gay person was as a prolific writer in the counterculture newspapers of that era, including the Berkeley Barb, the Berkeley Tribe, the Gay Sunshine, and my own publication, The Effeminist. I wrote the first editorial in the first-ever edition of Gay Sunshine, the first and most vibrant gay newspaper in the Bay Area.

I also orchestrated the “People’s Alternative” gay meeting space in a time when there were so few (existing gay gathering places, like the White Horse, the bar right across the street in Berkeley, were very closely monitored and constrained by the police).

Two of the most relevant pamphlets I authored and circulated in that era were entitled, “God and My Gay Soul” (I was just graduating with a masters degree and honors from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, a graduate theological seminary affiliated with the progressive United Church of Christ) and the more colorfully titled and salient, “Sexism, Racism and White Faggots in Sodomist Amerika.”

Going back over these pamphlets, and many of the articles I wrote in the area’s countercultural newspapers, I’ve been struck by how relevant my views were in today’s terms and how consistently I have maintained the same core values over these subsequent 50 years.

There was more than one dip or turn in these years, including some bad decisions on my part. It was also the era of the most horrid epoch in the LGBTQ history, the AIDS epidemic that led to the deaths of over 600,000 LGBTQ persons in the U.S. between 1981 and 1996. But for me, I eventually stabilized my life, founding a progressive general interest community newspaper inside the Washington, D.C. beltway that is now in its 29th year of consecutive weekly publication.

Still, after all this time, affirming the inherent value of all, including LGBTQ persons, especially in the context of the need to overthrow the root of social oppression in our culture, male supremacy, has continued to be maintained by me as my, so to speak, moral compass. I still hold that the feminist cause (my short-lived newspaper from 1971, The Effeminist, was subtitled “Gay Men in the Feminist Revolution”) must be at the heart of all struggles for social justice and equality.

My published collection of 100 essays originally published between 2010 and 2012 in the Washington, D.C. gay magazine, Metro Weekly, entitled, “Extraordinary Hearts, Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization” (Lethe Press, 2013) affirmed this perspective, too.

Society constantly faces the challenge of a reversion to darker times. The national Methodist Church decision to deny LGBTQ clergy and marriages is only the latest example, and so is the recent decline in the numbers of safe places for our “tribe” to gather and interact.

So the 50th anniversary is an important occasion for remembrance and revitalization.