Teaching the History of Pride to Our LGBT Youth
With Pride celebrations wrapping up across the nation, it’s important to remember the June 28, 1969 Stonewall Uprising that spurred the Gay Liberation Movement. Although the push for marriage equality may leave younger LGBTs feeling as though gay rights are a given, older Stonewall vets know that when gays stood up to the police that night, they sparked a revolution that continues today.
"Well it was only one night, and I don’t understand why everyone is making such a big deal over it," said 26-year-old actor Tony, when asked about the Stonewall Uprising.
"I’m only 21; how am I supposed to know what happened over 40 years ago?" echoed Tony, a barista.
They don’t often teach about Stonewall in schools, so it’s up to the gay community to teach its youth where and how the struggle for gay liberation began. Rather than the passive "Homosexual Movements" of 1964, where marchers donned suits and dresses and marched in front of Independence Hall holding signs, by the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, thousands of gays and lesbians marched in jeans and T-shirts. They were no longer asking for equal rights; they were demanding them.
"Stonewall was the match that started the fire. We need to remind our youth of this and help them keep that fire in their belly and be passionate about their rights," said Mark Segal, who was at the Stonewall Uprising at the spry age of 18, and was also co-founder of some of the earliest LGBT organizations, such as the Gay Action Group and the Gay Liberation Front.
Sitting at the historic Stonewall Bar during New York Pride last weekend, I met Thomas, a Stonewall Vet and retired schoolteacher, who said he was 20 years old during the riots. He couldn’t believe how far the gay rights movement had progressed, from such humble beginnings.
"My God, if someone were to have told me that night how far we’d have come today, I would have laughed in their face," said Thomas. "But I fear for our youth. They need to hold onto to their past and know what happened. If not, I feel we could fall backwards instead of going forward."
Educating Our LGBT Youth on Their History
Many organizations do their part in helping to educate LGBT youth on the history of their community. At the William Way Community Center in Philadelphia, an in-house "university" of gay knowledge offers classes on LGBT history, and their extensive Archives supplements these classes.
At the present time, the Archives have the most extensive collection of rare books, periodicals, video and audiotapes, personal correspondence and other ephemera documenting the history of the LGBT community. The Archives also has an ongoing exhibit in the lobby that changes periodically, to show the LGBT youth of today where they came from and the struggles that others had to endure for the rights we have today.
"LGBT people have always played a key role in the improvement of society -- from Socrates to Barbara Gittings. Without a sense of our own history, we LGBT people lose our community, our traditions and our future," said Executive Director Chris Bartlett. "We need to fight for innovative education programs, like the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History that recently was housed at William Way. These programs make history fun, engaging and memorable."
At the Equality Forum, Executive Director Malcolm Lazin helps coordinate LGBT History Month by producing documentary films, assisting with high-impact initiatives and putting on the largest annual national and international LGBT civil rights summit.
"For those who say our youth aren’t interested, it is because we are the only minority not taught its history at home, public schools or religious institutions," said Lazin. "But if you provide our youth with easy to access and impactful resources, they are interested, engaged and inspired."
Lazin said that it is clear that we need to teach our LGBT youth about their history, and with the passion and hard work of the LGBT community, it will happen, just as it took the passion of the African-American people to have their history included and taught in schools.
"We need to remember that Pride is a celebration, but at the same time it’s still a march, not a parade," said Lazin. "We as gays and lesbians still do not have a lot of the same rights and privileges that most people in America enjoy on a daily basis. For the rights that we have, we can thank the founders of the movement for as they were instrumental in getting that accomplished."
As a community, we cannot rest on the laurels of what we have accomplished recently, but must educate LGBT youth about their history. To recapture the sense of community we had after the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, we must find a way to recapture the fire and passion that was ignited that night.