Forty years ago, queer people famously fought back against the police when they raided a bar called the Stonewall Inn in New York City. It was a time when people whose sexual orientation or gender identity set them apart from society had begun to form political, social, religious and cultural institutions where they could gather with like-minded people. The revolutionary impact of Stonewall was not that organizing hadn’t taken place before; it was that when the police cracked down on the patrons of the Stonewall Inn, they were met with people willing to defend their rights with increasing strength. Symbolically, it meant that government and societal oppression would not be simply accepted or left unchallenged.
The people in that bar used different words to describe themselves and faced a different world than LGBT people today do. In a very real sense, we are the descendants of those rebellious people of Greenwich Village and the pioneers who worked for LGBT rights before and after those famous nights in June 1969.
At NCTE, we honor all those who stood up for themselves and, ultimately, for us. We recognize that among the people at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night were people along a wide range of the gender spectrum—drag queens, butches, cross-dressers and more. Their courage and determination moved us forward.
This year, the White House is holding a reception to honor the anniversary of Stonewall and this is how it should be. It is important that the highest levels of our government recognize the times when Americans took action to make our society freer and brought it further in line with the democratic ideals we proclaim. It is more important, however, that we are inspired to continue that work and keep alive the spirit of self-determination.
NCTE is attending this afternoon’s reception as a way of honoring the transgender people and those who fought beside them in the Stonewell Rebellion. It is also a way to reaffirm that civil rights for transgender people must apply everywhere from city streets to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Let the revolution continue …
View the video of President Obama’s remarks.