50 years after Stonewall, LGBTQ advocates celebrate progress but say work remains
Fifty years after the Stonewall uprising, advocates in New London and beyond this week praised “how far we’ve come” but said work remains to achieve equality for the LGBTQ community.
The uprising began after New York City police raided a then-illegal gay bar called the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969. Although violent raids of such bars were common, this time the community fought back — for six straight days.
“The Stonewall Uprising sparked a half-century of progress for LGBTQ rights in New York and across our entire country,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who co-sponsored a resolution in its honor with senators including Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.
“I am proud to support this resolution and I urge all of my colleagues to join it, too,” she said.
But the progress is lacking for some members of the LGBTQ community, said Mary Bernstein, a University of Connecticut sociology professor who spoke at a Stonewall anniversary event in West Hartford on Thursday.
“When I started (doing research about the LGBTQ community) in the early ‘90s, when the AIDS crisis was still full-blown, people’s homophobia was literally killing people in great numbers,” Bernstein said by phone this week. “I think we need to think about what kind of progress has been made ... but also about how uneven it has been.”
She said transgender people, though included in the LGBTQ acronym, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning, face an outsized portion of discrimination. Hate crimes against them — especially transgender women of color — are on the rise, even though they were instrumental during the Stonewall uprising.
Politicians, whether barring most transgender people from military service or dictating which bathrooms they can use, also are discriminating, Bernstein said.
“I’d be remiss to sit here, even in a mostly liberal state, and say everything’s fine,” she said.
Still, Bernstein said she was surprised by how quickly gay marriage became legal nationwide and how quickly large corporations began condoning gay pride.
“In some ways, it’s a form of cultural appropriation,” she said. “It’s like, ‘You’re going to say you support us because you’ve decided this will in fact help your company or your business?’”
But Bernstein, who is researching the corporatization of Pride, said activists in LGBTQ employee resource groups say their hard work led corporations to support Pride and related issues.
Sara Ofner-Seals, co-pastor of the First Congregational Church of New London, said a Pride service this Sunday will serve as a nod to Stonewall, to Pride Month, which is June, and to the almost-anniversary of the church becoming a nationally registered “open and affirming” congregation.
“It just seemed like a good time to have a service celebrating all of that,” Ofner-Seals said.
Ofner-Seals said the first-of-its-kind service, which comes two days after the city and nonprofit OutCT raised a Pride flag in front of City Hall, will feature a member of the congregation sharing her personal “coming out” story.
Jim Buccini, a pianist, musician and member of the LGBTQ community, also will debut a song he wrote based on the church’s “open and affirming” covenant.
“I think it’s important in this political atmosphere that we find ourselves in that we stand in support of the LGBTQ community,” Ofner-Seals said. “To be frank, some of the loudest voices in American Christianity are still openly opposed to LGBTQ rights. I don’t expect somebody who’s a part of that community is going to take a chance walking into a church not knowing whether they're going to be welcoming. We have to make ourselves known.”
Ofner-Seals said she hopes to make the Sunday Pride service annual.
“I want people to come away with an appreciation of how diverse people are,” she said. “I think often in society, diversity is seen as an issue or a problem that needs to be solved. But it’s something that reflects a bigger God. You can’t put God in a box and say God is just this one group of people.”
If you go
What: A special Pride Sunday service
When: 10:45 a.m. Sunday, June 30
Where: The First Congregational Church, 66 Union St., New London
For more information, visit the church's website, www.fccnl.org.