Fifty years ago in the summer of 1969, during an era of extreme homophobia, police in New York City carried out a violent raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar. In the immediate days after, members of the gay community held protests and demonstrations in the city.
The riots gained momentum and eventually led to the modern day LGBTQ civil rights movement.
“The remarkable thing in the Stonewall story is that it was black and brown, queer, trans, and cross-dressing people who affected this remarkable change,” said Eric Ort, artistic associate at TheaterWorks in Hartford.
Ort joined other members of Hartford’s Stonewall 50 planning committee near city hall Friday as they prepared for Pride Under the Stars, a public event that commemorates the anniversary and celebrates strides that have been made with LGBTQ civil rights.
But the significance of the Stonewall riots has become something more.
“The macro-learning from an anniversary like this is that when you listen to the most vulnerable people in a society and respond to them and offer them a place at the table, then everyone is in a better position,” Ort said.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said following the riots in New York, cities and states like Hartford and Connecticut saw the formation of more organizations, groups and events that today continue to support and advocate for LGBTQ inclusiveness and equal rights.
Milestones, like the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold same-sex marriage in 2015, deserve to be celebrated, Bronin said, but there continue to be difficult challenges for people in LGBTQ communities.
“When we have a president and leaders at the national level who, despite all the progress that’s been made, send an awful message to our country and our kids by trying to exclude transgender Americans from serving their country, when 30 to 50 percent of transgender youth seriously think about or attempt suicide, we have an enormous amount of work to do,” he said.
Reports also show that some LGBTQ people face higher rates of homelessness, violence and health care disparities.
Ilene Frank, a member of the Hartford planning committee and chief curator at the Connecticut Historical Society, said it’s sometimes important to look back at historical events like Stonewall in order to move forward on issues facing the LGBTQ community today.
“We are living in an age where rights cannot be taken for granted,” she said, “and so understanding who fought and how they fought to get those rights might inspire people today to continue to fight to secure those rights.”