Miscellany - A Pilgrimage to Stonewall
May 22, 2009
by Jay Randel
I was in New York a few weeks ago and decided that it was important to me to go and visit 53 Christopher Street, the site of the Stonewall Inn and the Stonewall riots. I knew Pride was approaching and I wanted to have some sort of revelation or epiphany, some sort of physical and emotional connection to the movement.
I don’t know when in my life I will ever completely understand being gay or why this is my fate. I accept it and I embrace it, but I have not fully come to understand what it means for me. I never want it to be a defining trait, rather just a part of who I am. In our society, that is easier said than done.
So there I was, walking with my trendy man bag and semi-in-style clothing, looking for a gay mecca that helped to change the course of American history, not just LGBT history. In June 1969 at the very spot I was seeking, the LGBT community finally fought back against the governmental persecution of homosexuality. As corny and naïve as it may sound, I thought that visiting this place would inspire some sort of calling to understand my role in life as a gay man.
I am not a pacifist, nor do I ever want to be complacent. But I am a realist and I understand that change and progress take time. I also understand that in relationships, whatever their degree, it is OK to disagree. Through that disagreement, understanding and mutual respect can grow.
However I also believe that now is the time to advance more toward equality and fight the stupidity and ignorance started by the late Jerry Falwell and continued by Pat Robertson, Sean Hannity and others, who use religion and personal ignorance to promote hatred and discrimination.
We must tell the Perez Hilton types in the LGBT community that we need to bring more to the table than ignorant backlashes against insignificant beauty queens. John Paul II once presented the notion that we must seek justice, and in that justice, we will find peace.
So without garments of white or prayers to insert into wailing walls, I reached my destination and looked at the building that inspired my pilgrimage. The setting sun cast an orange hue on the crowded streets of New York. I stood at the very block in which LGBT brothers and sisters like Sylvia Rivera, who later started Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries, stood up and said: No more.
Their actions helped to propel a movement toward something greater than themselves, and they helped little ol’ me in Kansas City be able to be “out,” seek equal employment, love myself, and have a credible voice in the quest for equal rights, so that one day I, too, may have no obstacles to fulfilling my destinies.
Overgrown weeds brushed my leg in the small park outlined by a black iron fence. A small bronze plaque commemorated the events of 1969. Tourists, New Yorkers and dogs rested on the benches that framed that hallowed space.
This place was made sacred through bravery and civil unrest. It was there that we saw hope and that our ancestors gave us their shoulders to stand on.
Across the street a neon sign in the window of the little Stonewall Inn glowed with the word open. The place appeared to be just another corner to those who quickly passed by, but to everyone who has ever taken a more free and expansive breath as an LGBT person, it was something so much more.
As I reflect on that day and the pride that we celebrate this month in Kansas City, St. Louis and across the country, I ask: What are we going to do with this sense of Pride? Are we merely going to celebrate by guzzling alcohol and dancing shirtless, sparkling with body glitter, to the sassy sounds of drag queens? Or are we going to use this time, this moment, to help the next generations have just a little more freedom than we had?
As we celebrate, we must collaborate, we must remember, and we must join hands and hearts and say, “We’re here! We’re queer! And we aren’t going anywhere!”
Thank you, Sylvia Rivera and all of the others who stood at that street corner. You are a part of all of us. We have great Pride for what you have helped us accomplish.