June is LGBTQ Pride Month

June is LGBT Pride Month, a time when LGBTQI+ community members, family, friends and advocates acknowledge and celebrate the gift of diversity that is unique to each of us. Many municipalities host Pride Parades where LGBTQI+ community members outwardly profess their ability to live freely and openly as their true authentic selves. This is a time to acknowledge the many accomplishments of LGBTQI+ members, both past and present as well as the strides in our current social/political arenas.

LGBTQ Pride began one year after the historic Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969, of which we commemorate the 50th anniversary this year. The multi-day riots that occurred at the Stonewall Inn as a result of a police raid of the local LGBTQ safe haven sparked the beginning of the current LGBTQ movement in the United States.

During much the 1960s and early 1970s, being anything other than cis gender and heterosexual was very problematic and certainly not altogether safe. Much harsher that our current life today. People considered gay, lesbian, transvestites or drag queens were often harassed and assaulted in their local communities, especially by law enforcement, where being in a same-sex relationship was considered immoral and engaging in “lewd” conduct.

Transvestites and drag queens were required by law to wear at least three items of apparel pertaining to their sex assigned at birth or face further arrest.

When police raided similar gay bars during that era, patrons who were arrested had their identities and home addresses printed in the local papers, furthering a sense of shame and fear among the local LGBTQ community. Certainly the lives, marriages and jobs of those arrested in these raids were adversely and often permanently affected.

When New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn on the evening of June 28, patrons in the bar fought back for the first time. The riots became so violent that after the police forced patrons out of the building, they had to shelter themselves inside the very establishment they just raided out fear of their own safety concerns. The crowds outside the Stonewall Inn reportedly grew into the thousands of people, requiring back up from local police precincts for crowd control. Finally by light of day the next morning, the situation calmed enough that the barricaded officers were able to “escape” out of the inn to the safety of their own precinct headquarters.

After some very negative articles appeared in the local press the next day relating to the events of the previous evening, protesters took to the streets the next evening, which was more violent than the previous night. Police came in force for the second night with clubs, shields and other deterrents to engage the angry crowd, which was much larger the second evening. Angry residents and inn patrons discovered an angry power they did not know they possessed, and they were not afraid to show or use it to their advantage.

While violent riots and protest continued, some in the crowd opted for a much less violent approach and taunted the police lines with Rockette-style dance kick lines, all while chanting or singing in front of shielded police ranks.

One year after the riots, residents and patrons of the Stonewall Inn once again took to the streets, this time to march down Christopher Street toward Central Park in solidarity and peace. Police officers who just a year earlier were involved in the riots were now under order to protect the marchers. While the original march began with only a few hundred people, by the time it ended thousands of people joined the “parade.”

Pride Parades are now celebrated in cities not only though out the U.S. but also internationally.

Priya Nair, diversity and inclusion fellow at the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, writes, “This year’s WorldPride — the largest international LGBTQ Pride celebration — marks the first time it has been held in the United States. On June 1, Governor Cuomo announced the grand opening of the New York State WorldPride Welcome Center, located in New York City’s West Village just steps from the Stonewall National Monument, and on June 5, Governor Cuomo announced the grand opening of the LGBTQ Pride Month exhibit at the Capitol.”

“Pride month is a time to celebrate diversity and acceptance and the progress we’ve made in the fight for full equality, and there is no better place to host the United States’ first WorldPride celebration than in New York,” Gov. Cuomo said. “Congratulations to our WorldPride ambassadors who are leading the way for LGBTQ rights and showing others around the world what makes New York state so special.”  

“Our history as a leader of the LGBTQ rights movement is a major point of pride for the state of New York,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. “As we begin Pride Month and mark Stonewall 50, we are recognizing exceptional leaders who will take part in WorldPride events to honor our legacy in the continuing fight for equality. Our ambassadors will highlight our history and celebrate our diverse LGBTQ communities in every region of the state.” 

This was the first year the LGBTQ rainbow pride flag flew at our New York State Capitol building!

New York state has made significant progress in LGBTQI+ rights over the past several years, with the passage of the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) in 2002, marriage equality in 2011, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and the ban on conversion therapy for minors in 2019. Currently under consideration for passage is the gay/transgender panic defense bill.

Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance will show the Stonewall riots movie Wednesday, June 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Cantwell Room, Saranac Lake Public Library. We also sponsor a monthly adult LGBTQ mixer night and a student LGBTQ group with the Saranac Lake Youth Center. We also offer events in Plattsburgh as well as our Adirondack North Country pride in the fall to celebrate the beginning of LGBTQ History Month in October. ANCGA also offers professional development training programs for organizations focusing on gender and sexual orientation in all aspects of societal life and employment.

Kelly Metzgar lives in Saranac Lake and is executive director of the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance.

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