June 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York.
For six days in 1969, LGBTQ individuals who frequented the Stonewall Inn, a gay and lesbian bar in Manhattan’s West Village, rebelled against the harassment by the New York police who kept raiding it.
They resisted, long before “resist” became a political buzzword. They fought back. They demanded to be able to live their lives without being pestered and arrested by the cops. When they held their ground and won, it became the turning point in — but not the end of — the gay rights revolution.
It was the event that launched real change.
June is LGBTQ Pride Month. The California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) advocates on behalf of all veterans to ensure their access to earned benefits, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, age, and mental or physical disability.
On June 13, CalVet will host the LGBTQ Veterans Inclusion Forum at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Vito Imbasciani MD, Secretary of CalVet and a member of the LGBTQ community, will deliver the keynote address. In 2014, CalVet hosted a two-day LGBT Veterans Leadership Forum, making California one of the first states in the nation to identify the needs, gaps, and exclusions in housing, education, healthcare, employment, and legal affairs.
The anniversary of the Stonewall Riots offers some insight into the beginnings of the gay rights movement.
For decades, the LGBTQ community had been targeted by religious leaders, the House Committee for Un-American Activities, and the police all across the nation.
Stonewall was by no means the first conflict. Numerous clashes occurred between LGBTQ people and police in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities before the rioting began in Greenwich Village. Stonewall, however, received the most media coverage; and, by most accounts made the biggest impact.
It was, in effect, illegal to be gay and certainly to be gay in public at the time. The frustration finally reached the boiling point in the summer of 1969. The New York police had been raiding gay bars for operating without state liquor licenses, which the state liquor authority refused to issue to establishments catering to gay clientele.
For a time, organized crime profited by operating gay bars, using its connections with the police to stay open. Suddenly, in the early morning of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn and arrested 13 people. A crowd formed outside, and the resistance began in earnest.
Led in part by a transgender activist named Marsha P. Johnson, they refused to be denied their basic civil and human rights any longer. They confronted and confounded the police in the streets for six days. An account of the riots, per The Atlantic, depicted the scene: “Met with fire hoses, the crowd toppled barricades, taunted the police, broke windows, tore out parking meters, bottles, cobblestones, and other objects while singing “We shall overcome” in high camp fashion, and a drag queen hitting a police officer over the head with her purse.“
In 2016, President Obama designated the bar and surrounding areas involved in the riots as a National Monument. It was the nation’s first monument dedicated to gay rights. Gays now openly hold political office, lead corporations, and serve in the military.
In April, Cathedral City dedicated the nation’s first memorial to LGBTQ military veterans.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are more than one million LGBTQ military veterans in the United States. California has the greatest population of all veterans at 1.7 million. The Veterans Health Administration estimates that 56,000 California veterans identify as LGBTQ.
Throughout American history, civil rights gains have been achieved in small steps, often spanning decades or centuries. Equal rights for the LGBTQ community remain a work in progress and CalVet is here to offer solidarity and support to our brothers and sisters in uniform.
To register for the LGBTQ Veterans Inclusion Forum in Los Angeles or for more information, click here.
Event contact: CalVet Deputy Secretary for Minority Veterans Affairs Elizabeth Perez, Elizabeth.Perez@CalVet.ca.gov or 916-201-0295.