Today marks fifty years since members of the LGBTQ+ community fought against a police raid of a gay bar in Manhatten, sparking the gay liberation movement as we know it today.
Since Stonewall, there has been massive progress made in the struggle for equality, from decriminalisation, legal protections from discrimination, being able to serve openly in the military, the right to adopt and, now in 28 countries around the world, the right to marry the person you love.
These rights were hard fought for and did not come without many losing their lives just because of who they were, whether that was from violent, homophobic and transphobic abuse, the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, or sadly through taking their own lives, unable to cope with the discrimination and persecution they faced on a daily basis.
But make no mistake, the fight is far from over and, in fact, today’s LGBTQ+ community may be forced to stand up and defend themselves just to stop the tide shifting away and having our rights eroded.
Life for LGBTQ+ people in 2019, even in the most progressive of countries, is still a life of oppression. Our community, particularly BAME members and the trans community, still face abuse, discrimination and attacks. That has been particularly true here in Britain. Homophobic and transphobic hate crime has spiked over the last few years, the most notable example being the recent attack on two lesbians on a bus in London. Even in a part of the country that prides itself on its diversity, LGBTQ+ couples still aren’t safe to act in the same way straight couples do. A care-free stroll holding hands is not an option when you are afraid of verbal or physical abuse, and yet there are people who will deny that we even face abuse at all.
Half a century on from Stonewall, there are still people protesting about the idea of children being taught about same-sex relationships. They do not want LGBTQ+ people to be considered as normal, and yet some of their own children will likely grow up to be LGBTQ+ and only feel marginalised by the actions of their parents today.
Whilst same-sex marriage allows LGBTQ+ couples in Great Britain to marry, Northern Ireland stands alone across the British Isles as the only territory where it remains illegal. All the while, the British government is propped up by the DUP, preventing action to allow for the equality that the people want, due to their homophobic views and agenda.
And then there is the constant ridicule, misrepresentation and distorion of the trans community in the press. This marginalised and victimised group is picked on and made fun of relentlessly in the press, with even members of our own community seeing them as a threat, when they simply want to live their lives. Irish LGBTQ+ activist and drag act Panti Bliss put the feeling that this illicts clearly in a speech from around five years ago:
Have you ever gone into your favourite neighbourhood cafe with the paper that you buy every day and inside is a 500-word opinion written by a nice middle-class woman – the kind of woman who probably gives to charity, the kind of woman that you would be happy to leave your children with. And she is arguing so reasonably about whether or not you should be treated less than everybody else, arguing that you should be given fewer rights than everybody else. And when the woman at the next table gets up and excuses herself to squeeze by you with a smile and you smile back and inside you wonder ‘Does she think that about me too?’ And that feels oppressive.Panti Bliss
And yet when these people are called out for their transphobic views, they lash out with a torrent of abuse and subject those who challenge them with ridicule.
All of this is to say nothing about conversion therapy, which remains legal, LGBTQ+ refugees being deported by our government to face attacks or even worse, and nothing of the situation outside of the UK – from trans rights being stripped away in the United States, LGBTQ+ people being outed in the press in Uganda, and the genocide of LGBTQ+ people in the Russian region of Chechnya.
I’ll be honest – I’m fucking angry, and other LGBTQ+ people should feel so too. We are seeing homophobia returning openly onto the streets and that should not be allowed to crawl out of the woodwork. Parents protest outside schools believing that we are an abomination, and the LGBTQ+ community is now lumped into the other hated groups of the far-right, where they claim that we are not oppressed – that we make up being abused and that jumped up queers like us should know our place.
But guess what – we aren’t going anywhere this time. This generation of LGBTQ+ people will not be forced back into the closet by anyone, because the generations before us worked too hard for that to happen.
We need to channel the anger we feel into battling against those that wish to silence or oppress us, whether that’s hate groups, thuggish simple-minded individuals who compare us to paedofiles, or commentators in the press who whip up the flames of hatred.
50 years on from Stonewall, we still have a long way to go. I only hope that, after the next 50 years, we will have made a lot more progress.