Sunday is the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, June 28, 1969 — the historical and revolutionary uprising that sparked LGBTQ liberation as we know it today. We honor the lives of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, grandmothers of the LGBTQ liberation movement, advocates for homeless LGBTQ youth and sex workers, and responsible for the first shot glass thrown as a stand against police brutality and discrimination. Marsha: murdered in 1992, murderers still unknown. Sylvia: pronounced dead in 1992 from liver cancer and years of medical negligence and discrimination. We honor the many stories and sacrifices of the LGBTQ community that continues to build a safer and more equitable country for all people. In the word of Lee Brewster, “When you read in the paper that some gay person turned over the police car, you know, it was Sylvia. She was their energy. Sylvia was gay liberation.”
The same injustices of police brutality, racial oppression, LGBTQ discrimination, mass unemployment, devaluation of homeless and low-income people, and voter suppression further compounded by a pandemic of the 80, we find ourselves, once again parallel to the history of this nation.
Without the Stonewall riots, we would not have marriage equality, hospital visitation rights, access to basic life-saving health care, or the more recent employment non-disrimination U.S. Supreme Court decision. It is vital to remember that the Stonewall riots were a response to police brutality against the LGBTQ community, and particularly against gay and transgender people of color. The legacy of Stonewall, its continued importance as the marker for Pride month, and the common reminder that “Stonewall was a riot” are living proof of the efficacy of direct action.
As we continue to push and work with our communities to create the futures we need to see, it is imperative to acknowledge that every single right that we have as citizens in this country was gained through a riot. The Suffrage Movement, the Great Farm Strikes led by Cesar Chavez in ’65, the Civil Rights Movement, the Occupation of Alcatraz of ’69, the 504 Sit-Ins of ’77 — every right, from voting, working conditions, civic participation and sovereignty — every right we have in this country was gained by a riot. Even the Constitutional Convention that created the Bill of Rights got heated every now and again. It is easy to discredit or even fear the pain and anger from the uprisings. But it is important to focus on the continued antagonization and brutalization of the protestors from law enforcement and local leadership who are, on camera for the world to see, inciting the violence at these protests. It is imperative to see and learn the value of direct action and movements. It is that continued pressure and anger that landed George Floyd’s murderers in jail. It is that continued pressure and anger that landed the historic ruling of employment protections for LGBTQ employees. It is that continued pressure, anger, love that will land us the necessary legislation and changes our communities have been begging from our leaders for decades.
Since protests started earlier this month, as we watched the police utilize them as an excuse to commit further violence against those who dared to criticize them, we have seen calls to defund the police become a part of the national conversation where a month ago even pushing forward the most modest of reforms would have been unthinkable. Direct action is a necessary part of civic participation. And as we celebrate the last remaining days of Pride Month, we hold the electric, blood-tear-sweat-soaked, loving hands of those who come before us to continue the work that needs to be done. We as a country, as a community as not post history — we are a part of it. And it is our duty in this life that we have to find out how and what we will add to that history. What better way to honor our grandmothers before us than by standing up against police brutality by creating a history our grandchildren will be proud of?
This year we’ve gone back to our roots. This year it’s a protest. It’s a riot. And it’s working. Happy Pride.
Solaris Gillispie is a transgender organizer, activist, and writer born and raised in Fairbanks. Alyssa Quintyne is a community organizer and advocate in Fairbanks.