[TW: mentions of depression and suicide]
During a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York City on June 28th, 1969, queer folks threw broken bottles and bricks in an act of resistance and love. This outpouring of frustration after years of violence upon their bodies and souls made the message clear: queer people exist and deserve to be treated with dignity, and queer spaces are vital and sacred. In what was almost a week-long event, the Stonewall Uprising became a major movement for equity. The next year, many reconvened at Stonewall, to celebrate this resistance and love. This was the birth of Pride.
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. PAAC Fam, the LGBTQ+ subgroup of PAAC, recognizes that we can breathe easier because of what queer folks before us have done. While we still have much work to do, PAAC Fam, in collaboration with As I Am, wants to commemorate this occasion through reflections and poetry on the Pride flag. Each color symbolizes an aspect of queerness, and just like the shades of a rainbow, we want to showcase the diversity of voices within the queer community. The following sections, written by PAAC Fam members, attempt to answer the question, “Through the lens of the Pride flag, how has the Stonewall Riot shaped our love and resistance?”
By: A queer PAAC Family Sib
Over the past few decades, LGB (and sometimes TQIA+) representation has grown in popular media and even in the political arena. In some Christian circles, a debate is ongoing: Side A and B, both asking, “Does God bless same-sex relationships?” Combined with the 2015 Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage, these factors have enabled the possibility of the “homonormative American dream:” cisgender man with a solid 9-5 job, coming home to his husband, 2.5 kids, and a white picket fence.
Our queer ancestors—the larger than life figures that spurred LGBTQIA+ activism prior to, during, and after Stonewall, who preached radical being, loving, and fighting—were seeking liberation from racism, police brutality, and injustice at large. Yet, it seems like some members of the queer community are happy with being seen as “normal.” With members of the queer community still unable to live—much less thrive—is this the generational gap that we’ll settle for?
One of our ancestors’ stories goes something like this:
Once upon a time, in the 1960s, there was a group of gay activists who called themselves the Mattachines. They worked within the system and emphasized that gay people were just like everyone else. But one night in June of 1969, amidst growing LGBTQIA+ activism, people already at the margins of LGBTQIA+ society at the time—including transgender women of color, butch lesbians, and sex workers, like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Stormé DeLarverie—refused to comply with a routine police search at the Stonewall Inn in New York. This sparked a revolt, and for the next two nights, people would see images plastered across newspapers of queer people fighting police, raising the profile of LGBTQIA+ people and catapulting their issues to the forefront of public consciousness.
Stonewall doesn’t end there. In fact, it is situated in a greater story of liberation that continues today. Increased visibility and acceptance doesn’t mean “living happily ever after:” death has been a constant force in the queer community. Today, parents of LGBTQIA+ youth routinely eject their children from home, creating a disproportionate part of the homeless population. Trans people still get harassed and killed by strangers, acquaintances, and family members. Since the start of the year, at least ten trans women have been murdered. The Trump administration has exacerbated the situation by removing transgender rights in the areas of healthcare, discriminatory policing, and housing. Pride is both protest and celebration, but it is often sanitized and commercialized, glossing over the most vulnerable.
The irony of death is that when our respectable, cisheterosexual selves are the ones to die, we start to become people who are whole—not “broken”, not “living the queer lifestyle.” In June, we celebrate how far the LGBTQIA+ community has come, and gear up for the challenges ahead. We watch the parades go by, and the rainbow merchandise appear on store shelves. But when July comes around, where does all the public support go?
By: Valor Grimm
My family has resided in the Hawai`i islands for generations. Growing up isolated in the middle of Pacific Ocean made events like Stonewall on the continental US rather inaccessible. I was a child of the seventies, yet I didn’t learn of Stonewall until I was over 40, and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The events at Stonewall and the movement itself, have been largely attributed to and defined by white males. People of color, women, transgender, and gender non-conforming persons have time and again been pushed to the margins. Thankfully, as our perspectives have shifted to include other voices and perspectives, we have learned that the key figures of the riot at Stonewall were transgender women of color: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, incited to action by a Black, butch lesbian, Storme DeLarverie who physically and vocally resisted arrest. With largely other people of color, particularly transgender people of color like Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, they fought united at Stonewall and continued to stay involved in activism and organizing. This has led to the social changes and protections that we see today. So how does a riot connect to healing? Whose healing? The answer to this is connected to my work in the field of mental health and trauma.
Humanity has struggled with our separation from one another since Babel. Our trust and ability to relate to one another is fractured to the extent that we struggle to acknowledge one another’s existence. Many believe that unity is derived through recognizing our similarities. However, while there are many ways we are alike, and many experiences we share, we are also very dissimilar. Our differences are critical to determining our purpose and personhood. And it is the way that these differences contrast and highlight one another that creates the beautiful tapestry of life, giving meaning to our existence. It’s what makes us living beings and not automatons.
The collectivist culture in which many of us were raised inculcates the values of harmony and restraint. For me, this is tied to Japanese and Chinese culture, and the local aloha culture of Hawaii. Yet these passive and conflict-avoidant ways, so effective in preserving traditions, also serve to hold toxic patterns in place that confine and limit our personal and communal growth, such as the use of shame and emotional cut-off to control behavior. It is through conflict, through challenging the dominant social discourse, and through accepting and celebrating the truth of who we each are created to be that we unlock our healing and restoration to community. Had we stayed “safely” locked behind the walls of someone else’s construction and profit, we would continue to be relegated to back-alleys and secrecy. Because of the riots at Stonewall that took us to the streets, and the continual straining against rigid and simplistic notions of who we are as a collective people and individuals, we are infinitely changed. Our strength and love and resistance shine forth in a rainbow of promise.
[TW: mentions of depression and suicide]
Sunlight is not easy for me to talk about. I have moderate severe clinical depression (shoutout to SSRIs), and the sun has been to me both the warmth that promises that the cold darkness of the long winter is nearing an end, and also a bitter reminder that though I may experience the sun I may not experience the fullness of its joy.
Two years ago my city was devastated by a storm. Entire towns along the coast were destroyed, and many homes incurred flood damage for the third time in under two years. While my family left under mandatory evacuation notice, the sun became visible from beyond the shadow of the clouds and the exact thought I had — after days of constant rain, fear, panic — was “what the hell??!”
I had forgotten what the sun was like.
Somehow the light of the sun emerges ever so unexpectedly, just when we forgot what it felt like, and with it come queues of volunteers at evacuee camps and donation centers. The storm catalyzes us to unite in celebrating in our strength and resilience. Together, we rebuild.
Pride is not all sunshine and rainbows and unicorns and glitter. In the Storm at Stonewall, the sunlight emerged in deciding we will not settle in the shadows anymore. Though the storm has passed and the damage has been done, we continue to honor those who courageously stood up for the sake of others, because out of the bitterness came something beautiful. Because of those who offered themselves to service, we could build something new and something stronger. We live in the aftermath of a horrifying history that tried to erase us, yet here we are, more diverse and beautiful and resilient than ever. After all, the color comes through because the light has refracted through rain.
Perhaps, then, the hope of the sunlight isn’t that the damage can be undone, but that the storm cannot and will not go on forever. We emerge from the storm stronger, united. We persist.
I discovered my asexuality in the midst of my own storm: I experienced the strongest suicidal urges of my life. Then I sobbed a whole weekend when my student, who had experienced dangerous conflict with his homophobic family, attempted to end his life. In this convoluted way of trying to become a better ally and experiencing the deep darkness of depression, I found parts of myself that were hidden to even me, finally coming into the light. Now as I grow to love and hold these parts of me all together, I grow stronger. Ever since, the bravery of every other kid that has felt safe enough to come out to me has been sunlight.
My student’s life — his survival — makes the world a bit brighter and more colorful. His voice makes the world a more beautiful place to be. His bravery is sunlight.
His light proves that hate has no power and no place here.
Reading Note: The author identifies as a queer femme.
Green-gold ombre waves
Gentle wind caressing
molding the hillside
Wind on the hill
Brown hair flirts with the breeze
Frizzy almost-curls swaying
Wind in her hair
Schrödinger's diamonds adorn ripples
Algae-brown shifting mirror
Wind in the water
Scarred and blackened earth
Embodied memory of fire
Fire in the forest
Our minds meet and my pulse skips
Cheeks aflame with a volcano’s heat
Fire in my heart
Stone fenced flame-holder lighting
Gravity of gathering flickering
embers to be feared
Fire in firepit
I go to nature to meet God. It is where my heart quickens with wonder, and where my soul rests in peace. I delight in God’s creation. It is holy. This is natural.
And when I love someone who fills my soul, my heart quickens, and my soul delights to rest in safety. I am delighting in God’s creation. They are holy. This is natural.
This, for me, is Stonewall’s legacy. I am (wonder of wonders) allowed to imagine a world where I can be and love fully, honoring the Imago Dei in the one(s) I love. I type this blog post in secret, afraid of what might be said about me and the women and femmes who have captured my heart.
But still, my heart sings for those who came before me – who fought for my – our – right to live into all of how God has made us. We are beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of She who shaped the mountains and placed the stars.
By: Elizabeth Quashie
Calm, peaceful, untroubled, serene.
We all, in our humanity, long for the freedom to exist in peace, to find sacred rest– free of trouble, free of threat of violence and exploitation. One lesson of Stonewall is that peace and serenity for marginalized people is rarely, if ever, granted. It is not something that can be passively laid claim to, but rather requires action.
Where peace cannot be found, it must be created. Because peace is not “kept.” It is made.
So, I offer up a blessing of gratitude and encouragement:
Blessed be the peacemakers, those who rose up against injustice at Stonewall Inn and in the marches that followed, and all those queer + trans + people of color who have been and are still creating peace by our resistance to this day;
Blessed are we who create spaces of rest and tranquility for one another;
Blessed are we who, in defiance of the hatred leveraged at us by the world, by white supremacy, by our families, our cultures and our religions, have dared to create our own peace by loving ourselves fully and unconditionally;
Blessed are we who insist on being seen and heard, stepping up into places where we have not been invited, to demand peace for ourselves and all our queer + trans + POC siblings.
Blessed are we who know that access to the experience of serenity ought to belong to all of us, and not just some.
Blessed are we to follow in the footsteps of the ones who have gone before, for the sake of those who will come along behind;
Blessed are we, a family who knows the value of peace.
Who will never forget,
as our lives depend on it,
that peace, for ourselves and the rest of God's Beloved, is our birthright,
part of the fabric of our identity,
woven into us by our Creator--
and that makes peace worth fighting for.
Spirit is the Thing with Salt
By Ellen Huang
After Emily Dickinson
Spirit is the thing with salt
That flavors all the earth
And holds to good in midst of flood
And never stops—in war—
And blazing in the soul is felt
And weary must be the wolves
That could rob this little light from me
Slay body but not the soul.
I've heard it ‘gainst divided lines
And thrown coins in the face of force
And if one should call it harsh
It's but a crumb of our horror.
Spirit is the thing with grit
That moves the heart with fury
And pushes tables over, cracks braided whip
To cause dens of thieves to scurry—
And trouble is made—in being yourself—
And hungry must be those awoken
That listen to the Spirit's wisdom call
And fight for all the folk—
I've heard it in the dead of night
And on the edge of the bed
The Spirit still is stirring here
Moving through many I’ve met.
Spirit is the thing with light
That colors hope of heaven
And speaks for all who love and live
And strengthens kin forever
And lovely, in your bones, is felt
Gentle warmth, life is beginning
And trembling must be the ones
Who call our holding hands sin.
I've heard it said She knows us well
Encounter Her without and within
See Her in the marches and prayer
Hear Her stir—and sing—
Spirit is the thing with power
She soars and crafts our dreams
She lights the candles, turns the tables—
Brings us to everything.
By: Steve Ambo
“No history, no self. Know history, know self.”
This mantra, burned in my mind from the year I spent in a Filipinx cultural organization, is a contemporary distillation of the words of 19th-century Filipino writer and revolutionary José Rizal, who wrote, “Those who fail to look back to where they came from will not reach where they’re going.”
Memory is essential to progress. In the celebration of all that has been accomplished by and for LGBTQ+ people in the fifty years since the Stonewall Uprising, it is important to heed Rizal’s warning – to look back and honor those who have come before us and who have paved the way for us who come after. Black and brown people, who are more easily shunted to the side in the collective memory of a country still enthralled by white supremacy, particularly deserve recognition. Some of the most prominent figures in the uprising were Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, trans women of color, and Stormé DeLarverie, a Black drag king. This history is not uniformly white; it is in fact exuberantly colorful.
Remembering – in these vivid colors! – our history means that racial justice must be a part of what we LGTBQIA+ people and our allies stand for, speak for, agitate for. It means that Black and brown people must be who I as a light-skinned East Asian American stand with, speak with, and agitate with. It means that trans and non-binary folx’s lives and liberation are intrinsically intertwined with my own as a cisgender male.
We can see the threads of the value for remembrance in multiple facets of our identities, across time, geography, and culture. Impromptu altars make their appearance frequently across the arc of the First Testament, physical reminders of firsthand experiences of God’s power and deliverance. In many Asian cultures, the idea of honoring those who have come before is one that has pronounced resonance. Remembrance is core to accessing the fullness of our humanity.
In the United States, however, we are prone to a cultural amnesia that is quick to encourage us to move on – as if moving on and remembering are incompatible. Remembering is necessary, however, because memory is essential not only to progress as an external, but to the growth of one’s very self. The self and its context are deeply intertwined.
Remembering Stonewall not only grounds me to pursue a more inclusively free future but grows me more into the self that God is forming me to be. Humility and determination are some of the fruit of remembering those who have been hard at work for much longer than I have, and doing the work of rooting out antiblackness and colorism in myself forces me to face the darkness that remains in my heart and more desperately long for and chase the Spirit’s transformative work. Sitting with this history helps me better love my neighbor and recognize the image of God in others and in myself.
May memory fuel our pursuit of racial justice.
This piece was guest edited by Mickey Beatima, who also provided the graphics. Photos provided by a kick-ass queer PAAC sib that has chosen to remain anonymous.