A group of teens and 20-somethings were recently asked what they knew about Stonewall. The answers ranged from it having been a battle in either the Revolutionary War or the Civil War to it being a band from the ‘70s.
One person guessed that it had something to do with gay rights.
Sadly, even an adult who was asked seemed a little murky on the true significance of the Stonewall Riots.
On June 28, 1969, the police in New York City raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn. The police roughed up bar patrons and the gay people had had enough harassment. The raid was the catalyst for riots that ensued in the neighborhood, spurring protests and violence between members of our community and the police for nearly a week. The riots are considered one of the major events that founded Gay Liberation Front which began a more activist gay rights movement.
In an acknowledgement of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall later this year, an exhibition opening next week at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., is designed to help educate the public about the events from 1969 and many of the pioneers who helped bring about change for the LGBTQ community.
It is a tremendous step. But it’s simply one step.
Other positive steps include legislative measures such as the recently passed law in New Jersey that requires all public middle- and high-school teachers and boards of education to update curriculum to “accurately reflect the political, economic and social contributions” of gay, lesbian and transgender citizens. California is the only other state with such a law.
However, the most important step we can all take is to think of it as the responsibility of everyone — not just the teachers being mandated to do so or parents or museum curators — to pass along this painful history. It cannot just be those people who were there at the Stonewall Inn that day in1969. It also has to be all of the people who followed, and the many people still fighting for LGBTQ equality today. We all need to start educating our youth.
Those who have been witness to how far our community has come need to take every opportunity — and even seek out opportunities — to educate and share with this new generation what happened, and to insist it cannot happen again.
How can we move forward and improve things in the present when the next generation doesn’t have a full understanding of how we got here?
As we all know, while we’ve made much progress, there is still much to be done. Hate crimes are on the rise, as is intolerance in general. While kids today seem more open to the differences in others and more accepting overall, one way to help is to ensure our young people are completely educated about the suffering LGBTQ people went through to get us — and them — to a better place.
Talk about it. Every chance you get.