This year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and, as such, we look back at the history of the LGBT+ community and the contemporary events that still impact us. References to LGBT+ people can be seen in the ancient histories of Africa, Egypt, China, Greece and Rome. As the heteronormative veil on history is lifted, signs of the LGBT+ community start to appear through every single generation and age. However, the LGBT+ community as we know it today has been changed the most in the past 50 years.
During the late 1960s, the political environment surrounding the LGBT+ community was contentious with raids on gay bars being frequent and often brutal. The Stonewall Inn was owned by the Mafia and accepted the most marginalised people in the LGBT+ community. However, the Mafia were not tipped off about the raid on the 28th June 1969, so, when the police arrived with a warrant to search the inn, chaos ensued with female officers taking suspected “‘crossdressers” stripping them naked and checking their sex. Instead of the crowd dispersing after the raid, however, they lingered and grew angrier at the police’s manhandling. Marsha Johnson, Zazu Nova and Jackie Hormona make up the vanguard of the riots that lasted 6 days and, at certain points, involving thousands of people. The Stonewall uprising didn’t start the gay rights movement, but it was the catalyst that brought LGBT+ political activism together.
The AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s was the most devastating global challenge to the LGBT+ community in recent years. There are many pejorative myths around AIDS, once named the ‘gay plague’ and originally known as “Gay Related Infectious Disease” (GRID). However, gay men were disproportionately impacted by AIDS due to the prejudice of inaction from both government and the public to counter this rapidly growing epidemic, with Reagan even going as far to laugh about the situation. By 1995, AIDS was the single greatest killer of men ages 25-44. This led to the rise of activists such as Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP, who fought for finding treatment even without government support. It was only in 1996 that there were new drug therapies but by then, the inaction of the government had nearly wiped out an entire generation of gay men. These new drugs include a preventative medicine regime available to those at-risk.
However, these issues are not just problems of the past – the fight for LGBT+ rights continues in modern day. Access to LGBT+-specific medicine, intersectionality, adoption rights, transgender rights, opposition to conversion therapy, Chechnya’s LGBT+ concentration camps, and equal marriage in all countries are ongoing battles. The work of our forebears has begun the liberation of the LGBT+ community but the fight for equal rights is not over. The first pride was a riot with stones thrown by black trans women, and, although the capitalist commercialisation of recent prides may dilute this core foundation, it is important to remember our collective history.