This column will be about education and understanding of how even one person can make a difference. We don’t know enough about our own past to keep from repeating those same mistakes in the future. Take the Stonewall Riots as an example.
This month we come together in Tower Grove Park and Downtown Belleville and celebrate 42 years since the birth of the ‘Gay Rights Movement’. The steamy night of June 28th at the Stonewall Inn, where Drag Queens, Drag Kings, Transexuals, Transvestites and other gender-bending folk gathered, is no more than where the match, flame and gasoline finally met.
The first organization to focus on ‘homosexual rights’ was the Society for Human Rights, formed in 1924 and based out of Chicago. During its short life span it published a periodical called Friendship and Freedom, and was an officially chartered organization within the state of Illinois. Unfortunately though, it folded after most of the members were targeted and arrested by police.
Harvey Milk, the beloved pioneer and modern day role model for many activists, was not actually the first politician in the United States to be openly gay. He was the 7th. In 1973 two city council representatives in Ann Arbor, Michigan came out – Jerry DeGrieck and Nancy Wechsler. The following year, Minnesota State Senator Allan Spear and Massachusetts State Representative Elaine Noble both came out while in office. Also in 1974, Kathy Kozachenko becomes the first person to run as an openly-gay candidate and wins a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council -makes you kind of wonder what was going on in Ann Arbor! Madison, Wisconsin, also got in on the action by electing Jim Yeadon to a City Council Seat. These pioneers actually paved the way for Harvey Milk’s final success in 1977.
There are many comparisons to what we see right now within the movement for equality and justice and what happened pre-Stonewall:
- We had fights over being mainstream vs. seeking our own peace – the Mattachine Society along with the Daughters of Bilitis encouraged their members to blend into society back in the 1950’s.
- The first case to highlight the lack of employment protections before the Supreme Court was Frank Kameny in 1961 after he was discharged from his position as an astronomer in the Army Maps Service. His vocal efforts and protests sound much like a forefather to today’s Dan Choi and Robin McGehee.
- The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot took place in 1966 at a diner in San Francisco. This riot is marked by many as the first riot with a majority of transgender participants and preceded Stonewall by nearly 3 years.
The movement for acceptance and fair treatment under the law has a long history that encompasses personal struggles, political power, and community engagement. The lesson to be learned here is that there are many, many different lessons to be learned and still many, many different tactics to be applied in our continued efforts for equality.
We can and will get there as one LGBTQ community, every voice united.
A.J. Bockelman is Executive Director for PROMO, Missouri’s statewide LGBT advocacy group. This bi-monthly column will explore the LGBT political world and he hopes that you will join him in that exploration.
BY: A.J. BOCKELMAN