Remembering the Stonewall riots and 50 years of LGBTQ rights

A decorated float stands idle before the start of the 36th annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade during Dallas Pride 2019 on June 2 at Fair Park. June 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which was the turning point of the gay rights movement. 

On June 28, 1969, under the cover of night, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village.

Unlike other raids during this period, this one spurred a rebellion. Reports of flying debris and fighting LGBT bar patrons spilling into the streets and neighborhoods caught word like wildfire.

The fight would become a driving force in the LGBTQ rights movement.

As the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual community celebrates the 50th anniversary in June 2019, there is a reminder of what came before.

“It was this spontaneous-seeming revolt by a group of people. It raised visibility, it raised awareness, and it encouraged people to do the same thing,” said Billi London-Gray, art and art history LGBTQIA+ committee chair.

London-Gray described the historical date as a turning point for gay pride, leading to a cause and a movement that kicked off in 1970 in commemoration of the riots.

Before Stonewall, gay pride was a modest affair. Gay activists were seen but not heard, protesting with silent vigils and walks.

Those walks became a march in New York City and ran on the New York Times front page on June 29, 1970, with the headline: Thousands of Homosexuals Hold A Protest Rally in Central Park.

According to the article, protesters proclaimed their “new strength and pride of the gay people.”

In June 2015, a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. According to the ruling, states cannot stop same-sex couples from marrying and must recognize their union.

Biology senior Braylee Grisel remembers that day clearly.

She was on a high school trip when she heard the news. Containing her excitement was an awkward feat for her as her classmates weren’t aware of the meaning behind the ruling, she said.

“I was really excited when that happened,” Grisel exclaimed. “That was a monumental occasion for gay rights.”

Three years after the Stonewall riots, Dallas had its first gay pride parade in 1972. Hundreds of people marched through downtown, waving signs and chanting slogans before a growing crowd.

These bold statements were a cultural touchstone for the community, London-Gray said.

“Visibility just promotes acceptance, right? The more normal you make something, the more people are like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s not some outlying thing that I should be concerned about. That’s normal. That’s a normal thing,’” she said.

Milaun Murry, experiential learning outreach and events specialist, helped bring that visibility to campus by coordinating UTA’s first drag show in 2013.

The show was geared toward students and offered learning opportunities, Murry said in an email. They were taught how to use makeup and create their drag persona.

“It was a wonderful learning experience and participants of the drag show had a great time performing in drag for the first time ever in many cases,” she said. “I even got to try out faux drag as Marilyn Monroe.”

Like other groups at UTA, Murry said the LGBTQ population brings unique individuals and perspectives to campus. She said she hopes to see the drag show and other events like it become a recurring tradition for years to come.

As former social outreach chair for Pride Peers, the LGBTQA Program’s student work initiative, Murry said she recognizes the meaningful events it continues to put on for the community.

The drag show opens the door to the LGBTQ community, the annual rainbow reception helps students connect to other community members, and workshops educate and bring attention to important topics, she said.

“From when I first started with the fledgling program to what it is today, I couldn’t be more proud,” Murry said.

As for London-Gray, she is working with her department to develop a best practices guide on how to be LGBTQIA+ inclusive in the classroom.

“Some best practices, for example, asking students to provide their own name rather than just going by the name on the roll on the first day of class,” she said. “If, for example, you have a trans student who hasn’t been able to officially change their name, you’re not inadvertently outing them by calling them by their ‘dead’ name.”

London-Gray explained the guide is about being intentional. When faculty or staff present their material through lecture, including a broader representation for students exposes them to diverse voices.

For Grisel, she helps express this diversity through her student organization, Out in STEM, which focuses on LGBTQ inclusion for students in the sciences and engineering fields.

Remembering the Stonewall Riots and the people who fought and sacrificed to ensure gay rights inspires her every day and encourages her to be a better advocate, she said.

“That’s what [Stonewall] really means to me,” Grisel said. “It’s a symbol of people taking back control of their life.”


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