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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Our Foot Print

Written by  Rai Guerra-Nelson
Christian Fuscarino Christian Fuscarino

As we embark on the month of June, we realize two things, one, wow! Summer is here and two, it’s Gay Pride month. As I write this column, and as I prepare to celebrate gay Pride with my friends and chosen family here in Asbury Park, I can’t help but think about how it all began. I think of how the millennials and the younger children will never understand how hard our pioneers had it before the pomp and circumstance of Gay Pride parades. With the political climate being what it is now and with an administration that doesn’t acknowledge Gay Pride and furthermore a vice president that believes in conversion therapy for gays. Today I choose to revisit a little Gay Pride history and offer you a chance see not only where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, but also how important it is to keep fighting for our rights. I invite you to resist.

Let’s take a look at what gays in the 1950s was facing then. In 1950, the “lavender scare,” the purging of gay men and women from government jobs and military positions, occurs.

In 1952, homosexuality is declared a “sociopathic personality disturbance” by the American Psychiatric Association. Homosexual sexual activity is banned under anti-sodomy laws. Gay and lesbian bars are constantly raided by police due to homosexual gathering and activity. Some bars are even prohibited to serve gay men and women on account of the New York Liquor Authority declaring homosexuality as “disorderly.”

On June 28th, 1969, things came to a head at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City. Most police raids on bars went peacefully. Usually, a few employees or the manager would be arrested, the bar would close for the night, and then open back up the next night or even hours after the raid. But this raid did not go as planned. This time, the 200 patrons inside Stonewall that night refused to cooperate.

Police intended to arrest everyone in the club that night because of their resistance. As they waited for assistance to arrive, a crowd gathered outside the bar, trapping the police inside. Soon, patrol wagons arrived to transport the patrons to prison. However, their rough handling of the situation and people caused protesters outside to react violently.

Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender rights activist and important figure in LGBT history, is famously known as the person “who really started it.” They fought against the police until four in the morning.

However, it didn’t stop there. Night after night, more and more protesters returned to Christopher Street, where Stonewall is located, to protest the mistreatment and discrimination they suffered at the hands of the police. This continued for nearly a week and today, The Stonewall Inn is credited as the place “Where Pride began.” The Stonewall Riots are considered the fire that ignited the modern gay rights movement.

These are just small examples of what the LGBTQ community has faced in the past. I am grateful to live in a community that not only embraces me, but embrace each other. I am grateful to live in a city that is home to Garden State Equality, whose executive director, Christian Fuscarino, protects our rights tirelessly. Allow me to introduce you to him. Christian Fuscarino also and founder in 2016 of the Pride Network. PolitickerNJ last year named Fuscarino the second most influential advocate in New Jersey politics. He has been an activist and organizer in the LGBT community for over a decade. Christian’s story of immersing his early years in LGBT advocacy and education began with formal training through the Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Education Network (GLSEN).

I encourage you to take some time this month to take an in depth look back at what we as a community have been facing, fighting for, and dealing with, and what we must continue to fight for. I invite you to think how you can take a stance in your community, how you can leave your footprint in this lifetime, how you can make a difference, and how you can leave this world a little better than you found it. Happy Pride month!

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