Chronicling The LGBT Rights Movement Since The Stonewall Riots
NOEL KING, HOST:
All this week, we've been hearing stories about the Stonewall Riots. Fifty years ago, a police raid on a gay bar in New York City spiraled into two nights of violence. It's considered a galvanizing moment in the LGBT rights movement here in the U.S.
Earlier this week, I talked to two people who've been chronicling that movement - the past and the present. Jason Baumann coordinates the LGBT Initiative at the New York Public Library, and Barbara Gonzalez writes about the queer Latina community. I asked her what key issues the community faces in the future.
BARBARA GONZALEZ: I think it's really unfortunate that, while we have come so far as a society, there are so many things that we still have to work on that were still relevant in 1969. We have queer and trans youth that are still homeless. Forty percent of homeless youth are queer and trans. Also, we're still trying to figure out how to best protect trans women, particularly trans women of color. Just this month, we've had Layleen Polanco who was found dead in her cell on Rikers. We had Johana Medina Leon who was found dead in ICE custody.
KING: Jason, let me turn to you and ask about policy. There have been advances certainly - there have been big winds around marriage, around adoption. What policies over the next 50 years would you like to see put in place to improve the position of the queer community in U.S. society?
JASON BAUMANN: One of the things that's been most troubling is seeing patterns of things that are repeating from 50 years ago.
KING: Like what?
BAUMANN: Military service. In 1960s, the main political issue was actually the right to serve in the military because it was really the right to employment generally since the federal government is one of the largest employers in the United States and really sets the tone for all other employers. And so with this current ban now being put in place on transgender people serving in the U.S. military, it's really very, very troubling that 50 years later we're now losing this right.
And similarly, with bathroom bills, trying to discriminate against transgender people, and also these various efforts around cakes and are they going to serve us in restaurants or a bakery, right? And it's this attempt by the conservative forces to really take away public space from LGBT people, which is really going back to the 1960s - you can't order a drink in a bar.
I think we think that history goes forward as a sort of story of progress. But really, LGBTQ rights and liberties and really place in society have sort of grown and ebbed and gone down over time. So I think we have to be very mindful about the cycle that we're entering, and that seems to be much more conservative to me than 20 years ago.
KING: Barbara, you're 25 years old, and it's interesting to think about the space that you must be in because you've come up in a time where there have been so many advances in the queer community with regard to rights. But Jason's making this really interesting point - over the last couple of years, many people would say they've seen those rights erode. As a 25-year-old, does that concern you? What kind of period do you think we're living in?
GONZALEZ: I think it would be remiss for me to say that it doesn't concern me; it definitely does. I do try to maintain a sense of hope that, while we are living in a very dark period, that there are so many folks speaking out about it and calling things out. I can't not imagine that we have to make some sort of progress in the next 10 to 15 years.
KING: In 50 years, what will the story of pride in America be, and who do you think is going to be telling it? Barbara, let me start with you.
GONZALEZ: OK. Well, for pride as we know it right now, I think that there are a lot of folks who are trying to get into the LGBT space and show their support.
KING: Allies, yeah?
GONZALEZ: Yes, correct. I feel like a lot of folks are trying their best to be allies, but they don't always know the best resources or how to best support. So I think that once allies are equipped with the right ways to support the community, such as knowing how to address someone by their proper pronouns, how to ask those types of questions. And this is within the ally community but also within the LGBT community. There are a lot of white cis gay men and white cis gay women and white gender-nonconforming folks who might not know the best ways to interact with queer people of color within the community.
KING: You know, there have been a lot of corporations during the month of June that have exhibited Pride, that have, you know, hung up rainbow advertisements, rainbow flags, that have made very clear their allyship with the community. And some people are really skeptical of that. They say we don't need, for example, a credit-card company or a cereal company being part of pride. Jason, what do you think about big companies allying themselves with the community?
BAUMANN: I think it really depends on whether they're willing to support the telling of political stories, you know?
KING: Hard for corporations sometimes.
BAUMANN: Yeah. And this is, I think, the problem for LGBTQ communities, is that they don't want to ignore that there was a civil rights movement. And so I think our struggle as activists and historians is really to show that there's a political history; there's a civil rights movement that took place. And I think if corporations are willing to support the telling of that story, then I'm all for it. But if it's something that's two-dimensional, that doesn't really tell our story, then I really don't think we need that.
GONZALEZ: Right. And these corporations tend to only activate during Pride Month. There is no other support year-round. There is no press release going out saying, X Corporation is giving X amount of dollars to this cause supporting LGBT folks. It only seems to happen at pride parades that we'll see their social medias painted in rainbow hues, but we don't actually see the follow up of - like Jason said - how they're going to tell our stories, how they're going to support monetarily.
KING: Barbara and Jason, thank you both so much for being here.
BAUMANN: Thank you.
GONZALEZ: Thank you so much.
KING: Barbara Gonzalez writes regularly about LGBT issues in the Latina community, and Jason Baumann coordinates the LGBT Initiative at the New York Public Library.
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