28 June marks the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York. It is now 52 years since those LGBTQ+ pioneers resisted when police raided the Stonewall Inn. Some, like Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are now LGBTQ+ icons, while other individuals remain unidentified.
But they all decided to take a stand, in the fight to achieve dignity, equality and respect, as well as against years of persecution from corrupt police officers. 28 June 1969 was a turning point for the LGBTQ+ rights movement and this Pride Month we can continue to be inspired by their bravery.
Stonewall, the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charity, was founded in 1989 and takes its name from those pivotal Stonewall Riots. It was a joy catching up with Nancy Kelley, who heads Stonewall and is also one of my LGBTQ+ heroes.
I began by asking Nancy why the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots remains important?
One of the reasons it’s super important is because it reminds us that our rights are things that we fought for and that we have to keep fighting for. We have a collective amnesia about the position that LGBTQ+ people were in 50 years ago. We have so much wonderful visibility these days with Pride Month and rainbows and it’s easy to forget that to get to this stage actually some of our community had to be incredibly brave, had to stand up and some of the most disadvantaged people in our communities standing up and fighting and pushing back against real oppression – I think that’s important. We think where we are now and the position of trans people in the UK, but also around the world. The position of LGBTQ+ people in Hungary right now, where we see this really rapid going backwards. Rights are precious and our identities are precious and the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is an opportunity to remember that we fought for the right to be here and we need to keep fighting for the right to be here.
How do the Stonewall Riots inspire you personally?
One of the things that I find most moving about the liberation movement for LGBTQ+ people is thinking about how brave our elders were and I think about how brave the working class butch dykes, trans women of colour and gay men had to be to stand up to the police in the Stonewall Riots and I think about how brave the Gay Liberation Front leaders here in the UK and in the USA had to be to stand up so vociferously. I think about how brave our own founders at Stonewall had to be. I find that so moving. I feel so powerfully that we stand on the shoulders of giants and that’s it’s a privilege to walk that same path, whether that is famous LGBTQ+ activists, the Marsha P Johnson’s of the world, or whether it’s just ordinary LGBTQ+ elders that just got up and refused to be invisible. It makes me want to cry even talking about it – it is just the most inspiring thing what our elders have done for us and it really pushes me to want to make things better for my siblings now and for future generations.
What are the key LGBTQ+ issues Stonewall is focusing on?
One is freedom, that classic human rights work and that’s where the campaign to ban “conversion therapy” lives, our commitment to work for better outcomes for LGBTQ+ refugees, the work we do in the UK and internationally on hate crime and hate speech – those are really important to us right now – that freedom piece. There is equity, that understanding that not all of our community has equally benefited from progress, so focusing on areas like mental health and the particular impacts that people of colour face, the particular impacts that trans and bi people face around their mental health, or looking at and fighting for better, more equal, access to fertility treatment – IVF for lesbian and bi women. Also, potential – that we should be safe to learn, we should be able to progress at work, we should be able to participate in sports and also the work that we do to support the new generation of LGBTQ+ leaders and activists. Those are the kind of areas that we’re really focusing on right now.
What will Stonewall be doing for Pride this year?
It’s a strange Pride. Usually the beauty of Pride is that we get to be together, in community and, of course, again this year we can’t. We are trying to amplify really positive content about our community through our “Prouder Together” campaign and we’re working towards a celebratory event on 1 July that is about celebrating all of the fantastic things that we’ve been able to achieve together as a community. We’re engaging in a lot of the digital Prides that are happening and supporting those and as a community we are engaging in and enjoying in those ways. All of us at Stonewall are really looking forward to being able to be together for next year’s Pride and being in physical spaces with each other to celebrate everything that is great and powerful about LGBTQ+ people.
Learn more about Stonewall’s important work here.