More than half a century after Stonewall the fight continues


It’s over half a century since the Stonewall riots in New York’s Greenwich Village started on Saturday 28th June 1969. With these being seen as a significant event in the battle for LGBTIQ+ rights in the United States, it can however be sobering to consider what has happened, and not happened, since then.

To me it looks like a case of a few steps forward and a few steps back but reinforces the need to be forever vigilant. Although I often think “we don’t move forward by standing still”.

In a related vein to the ongoing struggle for LGBTIQ+ rights worldwide, we still have a disproportionate number of people of colour being killed by police and or incarcerated in prisons. As far as America is concerned, Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech in 1963. In the U.S. in recent times we have again seen riots resulting (indirectly) from that country’s failure to live up to Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of equality.

In Australia we had the Freedom Ride in NSW in February 1965 and in 1992 Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech saying in part that “…Isn’t it reasonable to say that if we can build a prosperous and remarkably harmonious multicultural society in Australia, surely we can find just solutions to the problems which beset the first Australians – the people to whom the most injustice has been done.”

As far as lesbians and gay men are concerned, it was after, as much a political as a scientific fight (as Ronald Bayer notes in his 1981 book Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis) that homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. (The classification system used to define and diagnose mental illness.) Yet to this day, we still have people alleging they can “cure” people of their homosexuality. In addition there are parts of the world where it is illegal to be a practicing homosexual and you risk life and limb if discovered.

But there are improvements, when I started my volunteer counselling at what was then known as the Homosexual Counselling and Information Service (HCIS) in 1981, it was illegal in WA for gay men to have sex together.

After various attempts decriminalisation of male homosexual sex occurred in 1990, with an unequal age of consent (compared to heterosexual sex) til 2002.

Marriage equality (after a divisive and unnecessary plebiscite) was achieved in December 2017. However the proposal to give those of a (chosen) religious orientation special rights under federal legislation has not (as I understand it) been ruled out, despite widespread opposition and calls for the proposal to be scrapped.

Nowadays we can regularly see ourselves depicted on the big and small screen. For example in recent times there has been stories in Out In Perth about Love, Victor the TV sequel to the film Love, Simon. Although it can be interesting to see what gay male life was like in the 1960’s film about blackmailing of British gay men in Britain (Victim); Or U.S. life in the 70’s (A Very Natural Thing). An interesting look at the lives of a (married) gay man and a African American man and their experiences in 1950’s Connecticut can be found in Far From Heaven (2002).

Then there is the docudrama version of Randy Shilt’s book And the Band Played On, which ends with a scene from one of the US AIDS vigils with thousands of people holding candles in the procession in memory of those who died.

Time will tell if we have a national day of remembrance for those who have died as a result of COVID-19, in a similar way to how we now commemorate the 1st of December as World AIDS Day.

Getting back to the start of this article and the Stonewall Riots, there are two docudrama movie versions of the story of Stonewall riots. The 1995 version by Nigel Finch and the 2015 version by Roland Emmerich. Then as I was preparing this article I see that The Stonewall Inn itself, may be a casualty of COVID-19 with it’s launch of two Crowdfunding appeals to assist both the staff (who’ve been out of work for 3 months) and another to keep the business’ lights on.

I suppose the bottom line is we need to remain vigilant, celebrate the victories but not lose sight of those who have gone before us and be aware of that there are those who are vehemently opposed to LGBTIQ+ equality.

Colin Longworth

Colin Longworth is a registered Psychologist in private practice and a long-term volunteer with Living Proud and its predecessor organisations.

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