The month of June has been celebrated for LGBTQQI pride since 1969 in honor of the rebellion against yet another police raid on a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City’s Greenwich Village, on June 28, 1969. (The letters QQI, sometimes added to the mix, stand for Queer, Questioning, and Intersex.) Cities across the country, and internationally as well, choose different weekends in June – and sometimes at other times of the year – for their festivals. Libraries often feature LGBT books this month: Librarians are often among the first people in a community to recognize when especially younger patrons may be struggling with their sexuality and are seeking out the information they need.
President Bill Clinton issued proclamations for LGBT Pride Month, George W. Bush never did, and Pres. Obama resumed them in 2009. This month, in 2015, the country is eagerly anticipating a Supreme Court decision on marriage equality cases that may settle the issue of constitutionality for all 50 states.
Patrons at the Stonewall Inn, being subjected to routine anti-homosexual harassment by the New York City police, spontaneously fought back in an incident considered to be the birth of the gay rights movement – although a similar incident had erupted at the Black Cat lounge in Los Angeles two and a half years earlier. Riot veteran and gay rights activist Craig Rodwell said: “A number of incidents were happening simultaneously. There was no one thing that happened or one person, there was just…a flash of group, of mass anger.”
A group of drag queens, who had been mourning the death earlier in the week of Judy Garland, mocked the police and threw things at them, and police were forced to retreat as the crowd of supporters grew; disturbances continued for days. The bar is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
And remembering an early forerunner…
Specifically, on June 1, 1932, gay rights organizer Henry Gerber published an article in Modern Thinker magazine attacking the view that homosexuality is a neurosis. In 1924 Gerber, a postal worker in Chicago, started the Society for Human Rights, America’s first known gay rights organization, “formed to promote and protect the interests of people who are abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness which is guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence, and to combat the public prejudices against them.”
After having created and distributed a newsletter called Friendship and Freedom, Gerber was arrested and held for three days without a warrant or being charged with any infractions. Upon release he lost his job for “conduct unbecoming a postal worker.”
Following the last of his three trials, in which the charges were ultimately dismissed, Gerber moved to New York City and re-enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving another 17 years. He lived until 1972, passing away at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington, D.C., living long enough to see the Stonewall Rebellion.
Adapted from Peace History Index and other sources.
Photo: Many years after Stonewall, New York was the site of this celebratory march, at the head of which two women embrace. | Eric Miller/AP